Further cuts loom at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) next year under government spending plans announced in yesterday’s Budget.
But the government also promised to improve education for SMEs on legal services.
The ‘Red Book’ – which outlines the Budget measures – said the MoJ’s estimated 2014/15 spend of £7.1bn is to be reduced to £6.4bn in 2015/16.
This means greater cuts than had previously been expected. In last year’s Budget, the 2014/15 expenditure was projected to be £6.7bn, and predicted to fall to £6.2bn next year.
In the year the coalition was elected, the MoJ spent £9.9bn.
The Law Officers’ Department also faces a significant cut, from £0.6bn to £0.5bn.
And there could be more to come. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s latest economic and fiscal outlook, also published yesterday, said government plans indicate “a much sharper squeeze on real spending in 2016-17 and 2017-18 than anything seen over the past five years followed by the biggest increase in real spending for a decade in 2019-20”.
There was almost no mention in the Red Book of how the MoJ cuts are to be achieved, except for a reference to Sir Brian Leveson’s report on the efficiency of court proceedings.
“[This] has highlighted that there is still significant scope to reduce cost and delay,” it said. “For example, measures to encourage the retention of cases in the magistrates’ courts rather than sending them to the Crown Courts should improve efficiency and reduce costs in the court system.
“The government notes these recommendations and, as part of the ongoing programme to reform the courts, which is intended to save in excess of £100m a year by 2019-20, will explore how these recommendations can be taken forward.”
In a bid to “support customers to make informed choices”, the government said it wanted to improve “consumer education around legal services for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)… The government will provide information for SMEs on accessing and using legal services to be included on the Citizens Advice  and the GREAT business  websites.”