In the United Kingdom, the country from which we inherited our judicial system, support has been building for an increase in the retirement age for judges from 70 to 72 years. That alone shows how far behind T&T already is in addressing this critical issue. During his tenure as Lord Chancellor in the British House of Commons, David Gauke, who stepped down in June, suggested increasing the retirement age as a way of holding onto existing judges and attracting new recruits. The idea was supported by UK Supreme Court president Lady Hale who is due to retire next month.
So it was neither a new nor a revolutionary concept when it was raised by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on the campaign trail earlier this week. His administration's position is that increasing the retirement age from 65 to 70 will increase the number of judges so that more cases can be heard, clearing up a long-standing judicial backlog.
Experiences in other jurisdictions give credence to this concept. The retirement age for judges in the United States ranges between 70 and 75 years in most states and is 90 in the case of Vermont. Across the Commonwealth, retirement ages vary from 75 for Canadian federal judges to age 60 for High Court judges in Tanzania.
Best practice in modern conditions support a mandatory retirement age closer 70 years. However, there is also a strong argument against it—the risk of being saddled with an elderly judge with deteriorating faculties who refuses to resign or accept voluntary retirement. Removal of a judge in such circumstances can be onerous.
In weighing the pros and cons of increasing the retirement age for judges, there should be a review of the considerable amount of work already been done by the Law Association of T&T's (LATT) Committee on Judicial Appointments
In a June 2017 report on the selection and appointment of judges, the Committee concluded that "there is a persuasive case for increasing the mandatory retirement age to 70 years."
The report stated: "Apart from the fact that a judge may be at his best just when he is required to demit and may be in good health, and then would be debarred from practice for 10 years, a higher retirement age is likely to facilitate senior attorneys or even Senior Counsel in their mid-fifties to accept appointment after they have enjoyed a financially successful private practice and could then serve 10 to 15 years on the bench."
The spectre of incomplete cases left on the dockets of retiring judges has confronted the judiciary more than once in the recent past, so a review of the retirement age is definitely in order. However, it can only be one of a series of remedies that need to be applied to all that ails the justice system in this country.