The deeply worrying scale of the budgetary pressures bearing down on the Ministry of Justice is laid bare in new figures which will dampen already faint hopes of public funding reform.
In a written parliamentary answer, justice minister Dominic Raab revealed that the MoJ will have suffered a cumulative 40% real terms cut in its budget over the fiscal decade ending in 2020.
Current projections show the departmental spending limit will be £5.6bn by 2019/20. In real terms, the comparable budget in 2010/11 was £9.3bn and in the current financial year it stands at £6.4bn.
This week’s budget is unlikely to see any change of heart over spending plans, with justice secretary David Lidington confirming to the justice committee last month that his department faces ‘real constraints’ on resources.
He told MPs: ‘I would always welcome being given a crock of gold by the Treasury, but I am conscious too [that] I sit around the table with ministers for departments of health, education, defence and work and pensions – all, like me, could make the argument ‘we could really use some extra money’.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon, whose question prompted Raab’s release of the figures, said cuts on the scale indicated threaten to take the justice sector from ‘repeated crisis to a full-blown emergency’.
The impact of cuts continues to be felt keenly in legal aid, and further evidence has emerged of ‘advice deserts’.
The Legal Aid Agency said last week it had identified an ‘access’ issue for housing and debt services in the Buckinghamshire area. Since last year the agency has had to plug gaps in the provision of housing and debt services in at least seven procurement areas. A Law Society infographic last year showed that nearly a third of legal aid areas had only one solicitor provider who specialised in housing and whose advice was available through legal aid. The agency has also identified access issues for the Blackpool and Preston, and Milton Keynes housing court duty schemes.
The MoJ revealed last week that 36 offices advertising themselves as a law centre withdrew from their legal aid contracts between April 2012 and April 2017. Raab said: ‘The Legal Aid Agency regularly reviews market capacity and accessibility to make sure that there is adequate provision of legal aid around the country, and moves quickly to safeguard provision where gaps may appear.’