The Law Society and Bar Council have welcomed Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s £1.6bn injection into the justice system but warned that it cannot be a one-off.
Yesterday’s Spending Review said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) budget – which has long been on a downward curve – would rise from £8.1bn this year to £9.7bn in 2020/21 and £10.1bn the year after.
The ministry’s ‘day to day’ budget – excluding capital spending and Covid-19 recovery cash – will rise from £7.6bn to £8.3bn and then £8.4bn.
Within the increase is an additional £337m for the criminal justice system in England and Wales – including £275m to manage “the downstream demand impact of 20,000 additional police officers and reduce backlogs in the Crown Court caused by Covid-19”.
There was no specific reference to legal aid, though.
The family courts and employment tribunal will receive an extra £76m to increase capacity to reduce backlogs in the wake of Covid, with £43m going to ensure courts and prisons remain Covid-safe.
There will also be £315m of capital funding to improve the condition of the existing prison estate and £105m for the court estate.
The review has committed £4bn over the next four years to fund 18,000 additional prison places in what the government said would be the largest prison building programme in a century.
Law Society president David Greene said: “While we welcome this cash injection, further urgent investment is needed to preserve the vital criminal legal aid market…
“Between 2010 and 2020, 38% of the criminal legal aid provider base disappeared, meaning criminal lawyers had less resilience in the face of the pandemic and were hit particularly hard.
“While the investment announced today will help in the short term, it will be essential to move at pace on the Criminal Legal Aid Review to give firms confidence to hang on through the downturn.
“We are pleased that the Lord Chancellor has confirmed that the next stage of the review will start before the end of the year.”
Bar Council chair Amanda Pinto QC described the extra funding as “a ray of hope in terms of fixing the many problems our justice system faces”.
She continued: “It is a sign that this government understands the importance of investing in the entire justice system from start to finish. This injection of funding will make a difference in the short-term…
“But it must not be a flash in the pan: to tackle the significant challenges in the courts and wider justice system, including the backlogs in the criminal courts, which are the inevitable consequence of decades of under-investment, the government must now ensure the system is sustainable in the long-term to ensure access to justice for everyone.”
Ms Pinto said she hoped the announcement would prove to be “a pivotal moment for restoring public confidence in our justice system”.