Pay adjustments and enhancements to conditions of service for Judges and Judicial Officers

     On the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Judicial Salaries and Conditions of Service (Judicial Committee) chaired by Mr Bernard Chan, the Chief Executive in Council has decided that the pay for Judges and Judicial Officers (JJOs) should be increased. The Chief Executive in Council has also decided that JJOs' conditions of service should be enhanced.

     A government spokesman said today (December 7) that the pay adjustments agreed by the Chief Executive in Council comprise (i) an annual pay rise for 2016-17 of 4.85 per cent with retrospective effect from April 1, 2016; and (ii) upward pay adjustments of 4 per cent for JJOs below the Court of First Instance of the High Court (CFI) level and 6 per cent for Judges at the CFI level and above with effect from September 1, 2016, taking account of the 2015 Benchmark Study on the Earnings of Legal Practitioners in Hong Kong (2015 Benchmark Study).

     The above pay adjustments were deliberated in accordance with the mechanism for the determination of judicial remuneration approved by the Chief Executive in Council in May 2008 and noted by the Legislative Council (LegCo).

     The Judicial Committee completed the 2016 round of annual review. Although conducted separately, the review took into account similar factors as in the case of the civil service annual pay review. In fact, the 2016-17 annual pay adjustment for civil servants has been implemented with effect from April 1 this year upon approval by the LegCo Finance Committee (FC) on June 28 this year.

     Akin to the civil service pay level survey conducted at intervals, the judicial pay benchmark study has been carried out once every five years. The Judicial Committee conducted the 2015 Benchmark Study with a view to checking whether judicial pay has been kept broadly in line with the movements of legal sector earnings over time. The Judicial Committee noted that, among other things, the Judiciary is facing persistent recruitment difficulties at the CFI level. Further, judicial pay at all the three entry ranks, i.e. Magistrate, District Judge and CFI Judge, lagged behind legal sector earnings. In particular, the pay of CFI Judge has been consistently lower than legal sector earnings by a substantial extent and the pay deficiency has widened from minus 42 per cent in 2010 to minus 60 per cent in 2015.

     In coming up with its recommendations on pay adjustments, the Judicial Committee has adopted a balanced approach, taking into account a basket of factors laid down by the Chief Executive in Council in 2008 (see Annex), the findings of the 2015 Benchmark Study, the principle of judicial independence and the position of the Judiciary. A copy of the Report on Judicial Remuneration Review 2016 submitted by the Judicial Committee to the Chief Executive on September 21, 2016, is available at the website of the Joint Secretariat for the Advisory Bodies on Civil Service and Judicial Salaries and Conditions of Service (

     Separately, the Judiciary completed a Review of Conditions of Service for JJOs in January 2016. This is the first comprehensive review of the existing package of benefits and allowances for JJOs since the establishment of a separate mechanism for determining judicial remuneration in May 2008.

     "The persistent recruitment difficulties facing the Judiciary as shown in recruitment exercises in the past few years, the uniqueness of the judicial service and the inadequacy of existing housing benefits and medical and dental benefits in attracting talents from the private sector point to the need to improve the conditions of service for JJOs," the spokesman said.

     The shortfall in substantive judicial manpower at the CFI level was not a temporary phenomenon. As at mid-November 2016, there were nine CFI Judge vacancies out of an establishment of 34 posts (vacancy rate of around 26 per cent). While the current recruitment exercise is still in progress, it is clear from the Judiciary that not all the vacancies can be filled.

     Moreover, having regard to the anticipated wastage due to retirement of Judges, the manpower situation will become more acute. According to the Judiciary, as at October 31, 2016, 28 JJOs would reach retirement age during the three-year period from 2016-17 to 2018-19 (comprising five in 2016-17, three in 2017-18 and 20 in 2018-19).

     "Recruitment difficulties continue to persist for the rank of CFI Judge and these difficulties will remain, and most likely be aggravated if the status quo is maintained.

     "In addition, we share the view of the Chief Justice that it is important for the Judiciary to be able to recruit talents from the private sector to join at the CFI level to enhance the breadth and depth of professional expertise at that level of court," the spokesman said.

     One prominent feature of the judicial service is the prohibition against returning to private practice for Judges at the District Court level and above. Furthermore, senior and successful lawyers from private practice usually join the Judiciary at the pinnacle of their career.

     "Such factors need to be taken into account in devising an attractive remuneration package for JJOs," the spokesman said.

     Following an examination of the comprehensive review conducted by the Judiciary, the Chief Executive in Council has approved a package of enhanced conditions of service as endorsed by the Judicial Committee. The key components are:

  • an enhanced non-accountable cash allowance at an initial rate of $161,140 per month, to be referred to as the Judiciary Quarters Allowance, as an alternative taxable housing benefit to Judges at the High Court level and above in lieu of a Judiciary Quarter at the AA grade (these are detached houses located on the Peak and in Deep Water Bay);
  • a new accountable allowance which is taxable, to be referred to as the Medical Insurance Allowance (MIA), for reimbursing JJOs the premium of taking out medical insurance that confers pure medical coverage. The initial annual rates of MIA are proposed to be pegged to the ages of JJOs and their eligible dependents in the range of $19,300 (for dependent children) to $53,690 (age 60 and above); and
  • Local Education Allowance payable to all JJOs to be suitably increased for inflation as follows:
               Primary education ($44,730);
               Secondary Forms I to III ($74,235); and
               Secondary Forms IV and above ($68,933),
        and annually adjusted in future with reference to the change in the Composite Consumer Price Index.

     Minor improvements to the Judicial Dress Allowance and provision of transport services for leave travel were also approved in the context of the comprehensive review. The enhancements will take effect from April 1, 2017.

     The Judicial Committee considers the proposals to enhance JJOs' conditions of service reasonable and well justified, and they are necessary for the Judiciary to form a reasonably attractive remuneration package to recruit and retain the best possible talents to serve as JJOs.

     The Government is committed to providing sufficient resources to the Judiciary to enable it to discharge its constitutional duties under the Basic Law. To this end, the Government has put in place a unique arrangement applicable to the preparation of the Judiciary's annual budget which clearly sets the Judiciary apart from other government bureaux and departments.

     The Government will seek the approval of the FC of LegCo on the proposed pay adjustments, and invite the FC to note the enhanced conditions of service as approved by the Chief Executive in Council and that the associated resource requirements will be included in the Draft Estimates of 2017-18 for LegCo's approval in the context of the Appropriation Bill 2017.

Ends/Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Issued at HKT 14:00