What is the scale of disinvestment in access to justice for individuals?
Published 21/11/2018 by Laura Keane
As part of Justice Week, a research report commissioned by the Bar Council of England and Wales revealed that funding for Justice has been cut by 27% in the past decade despite government expenditure increasing by 13% since the 2008 financial crisis.
There are a wide range of agencies and organisations that come under the direction of the Ministry of Justice and this research report specifically analyses the funding provided to HMCTS, Legal Aid Agency, Youth Justice Board and the Judicial Appointments Commission alongside many other categories.
Professor Martin Chalkley produced a research report for the Bar Council entitled ‘Funding for Justice 2008 to 2018: Justice in the age of austerity’ stating ‘’there must be acknowledgement of the fact that the cuts to justice are savage and need to be addressed.’’ There were a number of core statistics and important findings within the research report including:
- The UK economy has grown greatly in the past 10 years since the 2008 financial crisis and is now worth approximately £2,100bn.
- There has been significant growth in government expenditure for certain categories such as Health which has increased by 25% and Social Protection by 23%.
- Overall there has been a 27% decrease to Justice funding since 2008, this is likely to decrease further to 30% over the coming years. The Ministry of Justice currently accounts for just 1% of all government expenditure.
- This continued decline is despite a 31% increased investment since 2016 in HMCTS as part of the court reform programme, the overall government expenditure in this area has fallen from 1.96bn to 1.84bn which is a decline of 6% since 2010.
- Spending on criminal prosecutions has been cut by 34% and the Crown Prosecution Service budget now stands at £0.5bn which is only 0.5% of total public spending.
- Legal aid funding has fallen by 32% which has resulted in limited legal assistance and an increasing amount of vulnerable individuals representing themselves.
- In contrast, Education funding has only fallen by 5% and Defence by 6%.
The austerity measures implemented by the government during the 2008 financial crisis led to an overall global decline in public spending. However, over the past 10 years the economy has strengthened and government expenditure has increased in areas such as education, health and social protection.
Despite this, Ministry of Justice funding has significantly declined and has negatively impacted the services provided by Legal Aid and Court and Tribunals. An under resourced and underfunded Justice system places restrictions on accessing justice, impacts the most disenfranchised individuals and weakens our democratic society. Chair of the Bar Andrew Walker QC has raised concerns over these government expenditure cuts and has said ‘the state is failing in its fundamental duty to provide justice for its citizens.’
It has been a long standing agenda that Ministry of Justice areas such as Legal Aid have not been viewed of equal importance when compared to other core justice areas or government departments. Governments have successively placed emphasis on supporting the prison and probation services instead, believing increasing funding in this area will win the public vote. However, with 78% of individuals agreeing that ‘Justice is just as important as Health or Education’ evidencing a clear public requirement for justice, it may be time for this government to acknowledge the importance of justice funding as a whole.
Although the Ministry of Justice is continuing to invest in the HMCTS court reform programme, the Public Accounts Committee have voiced their concerns that HMCTS will be able to deliver their expansive reform agenda in time and budget set in a way that doesn’t restrict access to justice. Despite this, it is unlikely that cuts to justice funding will cease, as Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon
justice has been cut to the bone, but there’s still hundreds of millions of pounds of justice cuts to come by 2020.
It has become increasingly evident that despite austerity measures having come to a majority close, Justice remains at the forefront of government spending cuts.