Lawyers' leaders have criticised Rishi Sunak for ‘turning a blind eye’ to the justice system with today’s Budget. Derek Sweeting QC said he was disappointed not to see the chancellor of the exchequer announce any extra funding to tackle the court backlog.
The 107-page budget 'Red Book' contains one paragraph on justice. It states: ‘The government has provided £450m in 2020-21 to support the justice system in England and Wales, including funding to ensure safety in prisons and courts and funding to reduce backlogs in the Crown court caused by Covid-19.’
Law Society president David Greene commented: 'We are disappointed that the government has not committed to spend any more than the £450 million pledged to the justice system at the spending review last year.
'Access to justice has suffered throughout the pandemic as already underfunded legal aid providers have struggled to stay afloat. The consequences of this for the integrity of the justice system cannot be over-stated. We urge the government to invest further in the justice system, to ensure the public can access the justice process for the issues facing them during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.'
Bar chair Derek Sweeting QC said: ‘With parts of our justice system facing unprecedented challenges, a 56,000 case backlog in the Crown Court and some victims of crime having to wait until 2023 before they are likely see justice done, it is disappointing to see no extra funding emerging from the Treasury in today’s Budget announcement.
‘The chancellor has turned a blind eye to law and order and settled for stretching last year’s commitments to cover the future survival of our justice system. It’s not enough.’
Sunak announced an extra £19m for domestic violence programmes to reduce the risk of reoffending, which Sweeting welcomed.
But the bar chief said: ‘Although additional funding for domestic abuse is welcome, access to legal aid for the victims of this crime remains means-tested, denying the many who suffer at the hands of violent abusers living in their owns homes from gaining access to justice. Once again, the Ministry of Justice, the courts and the wider justice system are the poor relations in the Treasury’s priorities.’
Criminal Bar Association chair James Mulholland QC said: 'The core funding budget for justice is stagnating in 2021-2022 at £8.4bn which is symptomatic of how people feel waiting for delayed trials to come on, after years of government under-investment in criminal justice. Justice was only mentioned five times in the entire 107-page Treasury document, mostly just in reference to the departmental spending tables, such is the disregard for even attempting to address a much needed five-year planning for our beleaguered criminal justice system.'