Chief justice: Supreme Court justice salaries no longer competitive

Chief Justice Villu Kõve.
Chief Justice Villu Kõve. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Villu Kõve, recently appointed chief justice of the Estonian Supreme Court, told daily Postimees in an interview that judges' salaries are no longer competitive and can't keep up with the private market, especially since the abolition of special pensions.

Chief Justice Kõve pointed out in the interview that there are currently three openings on the Supreme Court. Any new justice needs to be a renowned jurist, and there aren't many of them around, which is why Mr Kõve is in favour of opening up the field and looking for candidates among lawyers and lecturers as well, and not only among judges.

"We can't buy people off, and the social guarantees aren't comparable to those the best lawyers enjoy," Mr Kõve told Postimees.

Lower-tier courts had open competitions for positions twice a year, where advocates-general, lawyers and also prosecutors are potential candidates for the position of judge. It makes little sense not to take a similar approach for the Supreme Court as well, Mr Kõve suggested.

"We need personalities, I think", the chief justice added. "Of the kind that expresses themselves and is more outspoken." The mentality of an official in the worst sense of the word, of a mere pencil pusher, isn't of any use, Mr Kõve suggested.

Though judges' salaries aren't small, he added. Other professions wouldn't appreciate the statement that they aren't making enough, but the issue at hand is whether or not legal professionals are attracted to the job.

This was the case while a judge could still hope for a special pension, as people would work in the private sector and consider becoming a judge towards the end of their career to become eligible for such a pension. But this incentive no longer exists, Mr Kõve pointed out.

The salaries paid to Estonia's judges have recently been an issue elsewhere as well. The Office of the Prosecutor General has been vying for same-level compensation for its own top officials, indirectly demoting the judges as the highest-paid of Estonia's positions for legal professionals.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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