A four-year legal battle between the NDP and provincial court judges appears to be over.
The end came Wednesday with the release of 69-page judgment from the Manitoba Court of Appeal that upheld a lower court decision on judges' pay. That ruling condemned the government for an Oct. 26, 2009, decision by the standing committee on legislative affairs to reject a recommendation made by the judicial compensation committee (JCC) to increase salaries.
The JCC had proposed giving judges five per cent wage hikes for each of 2009 and 2010, raising their annual salary to $211,862 in the following year. But the committee, through a motion tabled by then-finance minister Rosann Wowchuk, rejected that, saying the recommended increase would "foster a perception that judges are not shouldering their fair share of the burden in difficult economic times."
The judges said that decision usurped the well-established independent JCC process -- judges do not negotiate their own wages and benefits -- and took the province to court.
They won, with Court of Queen's Bench Judge Jeffery Oliphant describing the committee's actions as a "total sham." He also ordered the government to pay the salary differentials along with the judges' court costs.
Wednesday's appeal court decision, although stopping short of using such direct language, upheld Oliphant's decision.
However, the court also recognized that in the interim the same standing committee last April accepted the JCC's recommendation to increase judges' base salary to $218,000.00. That increase represented a 2.9 per cent increase over the amount decided by the JCC in 2008, which was rejected by the standing committee.
"So, impliedly, by accepting the 2011 JCC base salary recommendations, the legislature has already accepted the 2008 JCC base salary levels," the court said.
"Nothing would be gained by sending the matter back to the legislature and delaying matters even further."