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Mon, 13 July 2020

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New research questions link between austerity and cuts to legal aid

Bar Council

3 min read Member content

New research commissioned by the Bar Council reveals the full scale of a decade of dis-investment in justice and argues that decisions to make wholesale budget cuts cannot be blamed on austerity measures alone.

Produced by Professor Martin Chalkley for Justice Week, the research shows that a 27 per cent real term cut to Ministry of Justice funding in the last 10 years is ‘out of step’ with reductions to other public services, and with a growth in both the economy and overall government expenditure.

According to the report, in the 10 years between 2008 and 2018:

  • Government expenditure has grown by 13 per cent in real terms
  • Meanwhile, ordinary funding for the Ministry of Justice has fallen by 27 per cent
  • Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) funding fell by 34 per cent with less spent ‘per prosecution’
  • Funding for legal aid fell by 32 per cent
  • Education funding fell by only five per cent and defence by only six per cent in the same period, and
  • Spending increased significantly on health (up 25 per cent), social protection (up 23 per cent) and economic affairs (up 10 per cent).

Professor Chalkley said: “In the last 10 years, the size of the economic ‘cake’ available for public spending has in fact grown. Not only that, the Government’s share of that cake has stayed stable at around 40 per cent. The austerity measures put in place following the financial crisis do not therefore explain the need for a 27 per cent real terms cut in justice funding. Cuts to justice are clearly way out of step with what happened in other areas of public spending.”

Chair of the Bar, Andrew Walker QC, said: “This research explains the context of the enormous disinvestment in justice over the last 10 years, and highlights just how badly justice has been treated in comparison with other areas of government expenditure.

“For a system that is fundamental to a healthy democracy, society and economy, this is scandalous.  The state is failing in its fundamental duty to provide justice for its citizens. Since the financial crash, governments have had to operate under some very real fiscal constraints, but it is clear they have vastly over-cut the justice budget and the public are now feeling the effects.”

Professor Chalkley’s research also shows that following a 10-year real term decrease of 34 per cent, the CPS budget now stands at £0.5bn, which makes up just 0.05 per cent of total public spending.

Andrew Walker QC 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. As disclosure and prosecution failings showed this year, such cuts carry enormous risks.

“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.”


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