More Thoughts on the Age of Retirement for Judges

A reader who did not wish to be identified has commented on my article about the retirement age for judges, writes the Editor. 
He says: ‘In this instance, I think there is a distinction between solo piping and pipe bands. In the former there is no musical basis to retire on age grounds – essentially the music they are asked to judge doesn’t change much. In the latter the position is different – you only need to look at the changes that have taken place in Grade 1 over the last 20 years. There is also the issue of bringing in fresh talent; from my perspective the RSPBA haven’t been too good at that.’
Well someone on the RSPBA’s Adjudicator Management Board might take issue with that last comment. I look around the competition arena at the majors and see plenty of new blood. Also the continuous professional development programme that the association’s Adjudicators Panel has is specifically designed to keep everyone up to speed, and judges must attend at least one seminar a year, the one just before the Worlds the most popular. So I’m not sure about his first point either.

Our poll conducted after the appearance of the original article showed that most readers thought that age should not be a barrier to judging provided individuals were fit enough. A large proportion also thought the RSPBA’s policy on retirement was ‘about right’

Our correspondent does identify one important issue though – the need for the board to keep everyone informed of what they are doing in terms of training, recruitment and selection procedures. If bands and enthusiasts could see the work that is being done by them and hear about new intakes then that would go a long way to satisfying the hunger for information – and help cancel out misconception. So I hereby invite the Board/Panel officials to give us an update of where we are at apropos the points raised above.

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As regards the comments on solo piping judging, our correspondent is correct in that the repertoire does not change much over the years, though there is glacial alteration as the music evolves naturally – we probably play both ceol beag and ceol mor a bit differently than we did 100 years ago but not by much. That said, MSRs are now played slower than hitherto – even in my time – though one could hardly sustain a judging discussion for very long on that scant diet. With ceol mor, the Piobaireachd Society Music Committee does run seminars on the set tunes for Oban and Inverness, usually twice over the winter. These are not that well attended but deserve to be. Piobaireachd is a vast subject – there is always something to learn.
I agree with our correspondent that there is no musical basis on which knowledgeable individuals should retire from the solo bench (with the RSPBA’s training programme there is no real reason for this in the bands either) but there is a physical one. When hearing is impaired, when the eyes close and the head starts nodding (as I witnessed twice last summer), when there is a clear inability to concentrate (stuff gets missed), it is surely time to hang up the pencil.
It may be of interest to readers to know what happens in the judiciary in the UK. At the moment there is a compulsory retirement age of 70 – though there have been calls recently to have this abolished. The UK’s most senior judge, Lord Neuberger, said the rule resulted in a ‘huge loss of experience and talent’ – the point I made about the RSPBA’s compulsory retirement of adjudicators aged 75. There is no age limit in the US Supreme Court.

Recently retired adjudicator Ian Wood of the RSPBA Northern Ireland Branch receives recognition of his service at the Branch AGM. Ian, now 75, must retire under the Association’s age ruling. Picture courtesy Brian Hasson Jnr.

• Read the original article ‘Judging Dilemma – When is it Time to Call it a Day’ here.

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