The government has confirmed that the mandatory retirement age for judicial office-holders in England and Wales will be raised from 70 to 75.
Recently retired magistrates aged between 70 and 75 may be reinstated on the active list “where there is a business need”.
The necessary legislation will be introduced “as soon as parliamentary time allows” (which I suspect may be quite soon).
The new retirement age of 75 will be a top limit. Judges will be able to sit beyond this age only to finish a part-heard case. Coroners will be able to continue only to complete an ongoing investigation.
Today’s announcement applies to “judges” of the Supreme Court as well as judges from Northern Ireland and many other judicial office-holders (referred to as JOHs).
The reform follows a consultation exercise last year. There were more than 1000 responses and most favoured an increase, though there were different views as to whether it should be to 72 or 75.
Robert Buckland, the lord chancellor, said:
In the 27 years since the mandatory retirement age of 70 for most judges was set, a lot has changed. The structure and operation of our courts and tribunals have developed, alongside the demands placed upon them. Meanwhile, the average life expectancy in the UK has increased significantly and a greater number of people are now working longer following the abolition of the default retirement age for most professions…
I want to ensure that we not only reflect this change in life expectancy, but also that we provide judicial office holders (and potential office holders) greater flexibility in when they retire, or apply to be a judge, magistrate or coroner.
It is also vital that we have sufficient judicial resource to meet the changing demands in our courts and tribunals, I have therefore decided to raise the mandatory retirement age to 75. I am confident this will provide the right balance between protecting the need to have a mandatory retirement age with the benefits to the justice system from retaining valuable expertise for longer and attracting a wider range of applicants…
I believe the higher judicial retirement age will encourage applications from a more diverse range of candidates, including those who might be considering a judicial career later in life following extended career breaks to balance professional and family responsibilities.
It will also allow time for lawyers who choose to apply to the judiciary later in their career to have time to develop the necessary experience to progress into more senior roles, should they wish.
Today’s announcement will be widely welcomed. There is always a risk that some judges will hang on too long. Others currently choose to retire before they hit 70. But many good people have been lost to the full-time judiciary in the quarter-century or so since the retirement age was lowered from 75.
Seventy is really no age at all. It’s certainly not an age at which anyone should be forced to stop working full-time.
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