Top judges' pay rise outstrips NZ average

New Zealand's top judges will be paid up to $15,500 a year extra after the Remuneration Authority approved a pay rise well above the rate of inflation and the average wage increase in New Zealand.

The authority, which oversees public sector pay rates, recommended a 3.3 per cent increase to judges' base salaries, backdated to October.

This means Chief Justice Sian Elias' annual salary will jump by $15,500 to $487,000, and a Supreme Court judge's new pay will be $457,000, up from $442,500.

Last month, the authority gave MPs a 2.2 per cent pay rise.


In deciding salaries, the authority had to consider economic conditions, the rate of inflation, and the pay of private lawyers and public sector officials with similar skills and experience to judges.

Chairman John Errington said salaries of senior lawyers and partners were rising disproportionately to those of the rest of the workforce.

"In New Zealand, we are experiencing senior salaries going faster than labour cost indices, or the consumer price index. And we are bound to have a look at remuneration for jobs with similar responsibilities.

"If senior salaries are going up faster than normal salaries, we have to follow that."

In the year to June, the labour cost index rose by 2 per cent, and inflation rose by 1.4 per cent in the year to September.

The authority said judges in the higher courts would be making earning less than a senior QC or the senior partner of a law firm.

In other courts, some judges would take a pay cut if they came from private practice, while others would get a rise.

Mr Errington said: "We do a lot of consulting and ... most of them would say a fair amount was set. Generally speaking they've been pretty comfortable with the outcome."

Judges also receive an allowance for general expenses, which covers the cost of gowns, books, and entertaining colleagues or international experts. They also receive a "circuit allowance" to cover travel to other regions for court cases.

The annual expense rates remain the same, at $4000 for a district court judge and $8000 for senior judges.

Mr Errington said remuneration rates were not only important in recruiting and retaining competent people, but in ensuring the judiciary remained free of outside influence.

"We do take into account the real need for judges to be totally independent, and for New Zealanders to remain with a very high level of anti-corruption," he said.

"For judges, there isn't much opportunity to say 'I don't want to be a judge any more'. Once you're a judge, you're pretty well a judge for life."

Judges' pay

• Chief Justice: $471,500 to $487,000

• Supreme Court judge: $442,500 to $457,000

• Court of Appeal president: $442,500 to $457,000

• High Court judge: $395,000 to $408,000

• Employment Court judge: $337,500 to $349,000

• District Court judge: $300,500 to $310,000

• Maori Land Court judge: $300,500 to $310,000