The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has cut spending with external law firms by 16% over the past two years, it has revealed. The department spent £3.8m on fees in 2012/13, compared with £4.5m in 2010/11.

In a written parliamentary response Shailesh Vara, justice minister, said Whitehall’s central legal services provider the Treasury Solicitor’s department (TSol) now conducts the majority of the department’s litigation.

Over the past year Whitehall has made more use of TSol, with four major departments doubling spending with TSol in the first six months of 2013.

An MoJ spokesperson said the department had introduced stricter spending controls since 2011. ‘External legal advice is only ever sought when specialist skills are not available in-house and there is a clear business need,’ he said.

In contrast, the Department for Education (DfE) spent more than £56m with law firms on work related to its flagship free schools programme in the first half of 2013, according to analysis of figures by the Gazette.

However, a DfE spokeswoman said most of that money related to funds transferring through solicitors’ accounts for the purchase of property or land, rather than legal fees.