County sheriff loses appeal over mandatory retirement age

County Sheriff Loses Appeal Over Mandatory Retirement Age
Cavan and Monaghan County Sheriff, Seamus Mallon took the action against the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Attorney General. Photo: PA Images
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High Court reporters

The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by a county sheriff who had challenged the law requiring him to retire at 70.

Cavan and Monaghan County Sheriff, Seamus Mallon, was appointed in 1987 to the post, commonly referred to as Revenue Sheriff, which involves the enforcement of money judgments by the seizure of goods if necessary.


It is one of 16 similar posts in the State and they are non-pensionable, although a sheriff is entitled to make contributions to provide for the State contributory pension.

Mr Mallon, who is a solicitor based in Castleblayney, brought High Court proceedings claiming that the mandatory retirement age of 70 for sheriffs infringed age discrimination provisions of the Employment Equality Act 1998, and is incompatible with an EU directive on equal treatment in employment.

In his action against the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Attorney General, Mr Mallon claimed the mandatory retirement age was unjustifiably discriminatory. The Minister opposed the action.

In 2022, the High Court rejected Mr Mallon's challenge saying there was a "specific and separate statutory provision" for sheriffs as a class of public servant.


Mr Mallon was then granted a direct appeal of that decision to the Supreme Court, which the Minister also opposed.

On Wednesday, in a unanimous decision, a five-judge Supreme Court upheld the High Court decision.


The court noted that in July 2020, the Sheriffs' Association made a submission to the Minister urging an increase in the retirement age to 72, in line with the same retirement age increase which had been granted to coroners.

The Minister rejected the proposal on the basis of current government policy of compulsory retirement at 70 in the public service.


Giving the Supreme Court judgment, Mr Justice Maurice Collins said Mr Mallon was entitled to seek relief from the court, notwithstanding the possibility of bringing a claim before the Workplace Relations Commission.

While under the EU directive a mandatory retirement age amounted to a direct imposition of less favourable treatment to certain workers, the fact that a general measure does not provide for individual assessment of those concerned does not of itself involve any breach of that directive, he said.

EU member states are afforded a broad discretion in selecting the aims of social and employment policy they pursue, he added.

He held that the general application of those objectives did not undermine their legitimacy and no error was disclosed in the High Court upholding the legitimacy of the State's aims.


He also noted that the retirement age of 70 is higher than the pensionable age of 66, and sheriffs, as solicitors, remain free to combine their office with their legal practice and thereby reduce any risk of financial hardship.

He also dismissed the claim of discrimination between sheriffs and coroners.

Member states may legislate having regard to the particular characteristics and circumstances of different sectors consistently with the general objective of standardising retirement ages across the public service, he said.

He was satisfied the role of the coroner has been expanding and becoming more challenging. The aim of retaining expertise and experience within that system provided a rational basis for a difference in treatment between coroners and sheriffs, he said.

The decision to maintain the 70 age for sheriffs did not appear unreasonable in all the circumstances, he said.

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