The Bar Council has questioned the link between austerity and legal aid cuts after publishing analysis of government expenditure over a decade confirming 'just how badly justice has been treated'.
Economics professor Martin Chalkley, one of the architects of the original Crown court fee scheme for advocates, analysed government expenditure between 2008 and 2018, which he says has grown by 13% in real terms. However, ordinary funding for the Ministry of Justice has fallen by 27%. Crown Prosecution Service funding has fallen by 34%. Legal aid funding has fallen by 32%. Contrast that with education funding, which fell only by 5%, and defence by only 6%. Meanwhile spending increased significantly for health, social protection and economic affairs.
Chalkley said the size of the economic 'cake' available for public spending has grown in the past 10 years and the government's share has remained stable at around 40%. He said: 'The austerity measures put in place following the financial crisis do not therefore explain the need for a 27% real terms cut in justice funding. Cuts to justice are clearly way out of step with what happened in other areas of public spending.'
Bar Council chair Andrew Walker QC said the research highlighted 'just how badly justice has been treated in comparison with other areas of government expenditure'.
Walker said: 'Why has the CPS taken such a hard hit, alongside criminal legal aid? With less money spent per prosecution, both the victims of crime and the innocent who are prosecuted are being let down. The government is gambling with public safety and the rights of individuals, so it can scrimp on what is already a relatively tiny budget.
'In the context of these figures, plans announced last month for a package of new laws, codes and panels for victims now sound rather hollow. Victims will inevitably be failed if we do not have a properly funded criminal justice system. Without urgent re-investment, the government risks losing public faith in its ability perform one of its most basic but essential functions: keeping us safe from crime.'
Any hope that rising concern about the state of the justice system would prompt an outbreak of Treasury generosity were dashed earlier in the week, when the chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, announced the latest Budget.
The Treasury’s Budget Document reveals that the departmental resource budget for the Ministry of Justice will shrink from £6.3bn in 2018/19 to £6bn in 2019/20. The capital budget will fall from £600m in 2018/19 to £400m in 2019/20 - and just £100m in 2020/21.
The following day the ministry announced it had secured £52m for 'targeted expenditure', which includes £15m for court maintenance and security this year. The treasury will fund the cost of building a new prison at Glen Parva in Leicestershire. It has also committed to funding a review by the Law Commission into simplifying the rules around marriage ceremonies in England and Wales.