(CN) – A decision by Portuguese legislators to temporarily reduce the salaries of judges in the nation’s Court of Auditors to help plug holes in the nation’s budget did not violate rules on judicial independence, the European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday.
Beginning in October 2014, the Portugal Legislature temporarily reduced the pay of various public employees, including judges, to bring its budget deficit in line with EU requirements. The salaries returned to normal levels in January 2016.
But the cuts came with an added benefit for Portugal: they made it so Portugal was eligible to receive financial assistance from the EU. The court hearing a lawsuit brought by a judge’s union asked the EU high court whether the rule of judicial independence – enshrined in both the Portuguese and EU constitutions – bars salary reductions for the judiciary when the reductions are linked to budget problems and financial aid.
In its preliminary ruling issued Tuesday, the Luxembourg-based high court stressed the importance of judicial independence. But the salary reductions Portuguese judges endured did not impair that independence since many other government employees also had their salaries slashed for budgetary reasons, the court said.
“They are, on the contrary, in the nature of general measures seeking a contribution from all members of the national public administration to the austerity effort dictated by the mandatory requirements for reducing the Portuguese state’s excessive budget deficit,” the high court wrote in its 6-page ruling.
The Portuguese court hearing the dispute must decide the case in light of the EU court’s ruling, which is binding.