A report by the Council of Europe on justice efficiency, published last week, listed figures for the total public budget allocated to legal aid in 47 countries. It showed that most states in Europe increased their budget between 2010 and 2012, while the UK cut funding significantly.  

Predictably, the bulk of news outlets highlighted the fact that we spend more than most countries on legal aid in per capita terms, although Norway has now overtaken us. However, few journalists and even fewer members of the public are aware that the inquisitorial system used in Europe means that the cost of investigations falls more on judges’ budgets than lawyers’ and so countries’ systems cannot be compared like for like.

Even fewer people would be aware that total spending on the judicial system in 2012 – around £4.3bn – worked out at less than £1.57 per person per week.

Expenditure per capita on the justice system overall – courts, prosecutors and legal aid – sees England and Wales ninth, behind Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway. Measuring expenditure per capita in proportion to GDP, we come in 17th.

In terms of numbers of cases our prosecutors take to court per 100,000 of population, we are second only to Sweden, with more than double the average number of prosecutions. The figures overall show, for example, that we spend half as much again on our justice system as France does, but prosecute almost twice as many people.

The cuts to legal aid in England and Wales are already having a detrimental effect upon access to justice. Some 600,000 people have lost access to civil legal aid, while the government’s proposed criminal legal aid cuts will have a devastating impact on access to justice for the public, leaving areas of the country with no legal representation for anyone accused of a crime and depriving vulnerable members of the public from access to justice.

It seems to me that dispelling the myths about the cost of the criminal justice system is vital.

Andrew Caplen, president, the Law Society