Chancellor Philip Hammond today reiterated that the Ministry of Justice will have to make £600m in savings by the end of the decade. In budget documents published today, the Treasury committed to reduce the department’s spending from £6.6bn in 2017/18 to £6bn by 2019/20.

Over the same period, spending on health, defence, the Home Office and education will all rise.

Despite noting several positives in today’s budget, Law Society vice-president Christina Blacklaws said significant cuts to Ministry of Justice funding continue to affect the legal sector.

'The 40% real cut in funding for the Ministry of Justice from 2011 to 2020 was notably absent from the Chancellor’s statement,' she said. 'These cuts are having a real impact on the ability of the most vulnerable in our society to access justice.

'While we acknowledge the government’s recent announcement to review the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, the significant cuts to the justice budget are still preventing effective justice for all.'

Responding to renewed spending reductions, shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon tweeted: ’Tens of thousands of people have been unable to defend their rights due to the slashing of legal aid. The government’s promised review is meaningless if it carries on cutting legal aid budgets.’

Other measures in the budget include:

  • A discussion paper will explore the case and options for longer-term reform to make the employment status tests for both employment rights and tax clearer
  • A new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation to enable and ensure safe, ethical and ground-breaking innovation in AI and data-driven technologies. 
  • A £10m Regulators’ Pioneer Fund to help regulators to develop innovative approaches aimed at getting new products and services to market
  • An extra £2.8m for the Competition and Markets Authority to take on cases against companies acting unfairly.

James Kitching, corporate solicitor at south east firm Coffin Mew, said the chancellor is attempting to pave the way for the development of new technologies, but he is still at the mercy of legal and regulatory systems. 

’Already there are issues with how fast these kinds of ideas can advance while there are questions about insurance and liability,’ he said. ’While producing an environment for greater investment in future technologies is a start, the law needs to adapt to allow our nation to lead the way.’

Blacklaws said the government’s willingness to review employment law and employment rights was positive, adding: 'As our economy undergoes structural changes, the law needs to adapt. We need clarity to ensure employee’s rights are respected and we look forward to engaging with the government on this important review.'