Well the much anticipated and dreaded comprehensive spending review (CSR) announcement was made today. As is usual with budget announcements, cuts in the big ticket, high-profile items, such as defence and welfare benefits, had been well trailed in advance. For smaller departments like the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) details were scant. What we can confirm is that the following is planned:
- Overall the MoJ has to find cuts of 23 per cent in the four-year CSR period, which commences on 1 April next year.
- Consultation on closing 157 under-utilised courts (previously announced).
- A 33 per cent cut in administrative costs.
- A reduction of the MoJ's London estate from 18 to four buildings.
- A 50 per cent reduction in capital expenditure, including 1,500 new for old prison places to go.
- A 25 per cent cut in the cost of the Crown Prosecution Service.
The MoJ will be expected to reduce its expenditure from £9.2 billion in the current year to £7.3 billion by April 2015. While other departments could have some efficiency savings left in the cupboard, LAG believes the MoJ may struggle to find any, as it has had to make cuts of 10 per cent in the last three years, including around £350 million to be made before March 2011.
The legal aid budget has been static for four years, which is a cut in real terms. Fixed fees, the reintroduction of means testing in criminal cases and fee cuts in criminal legal aid have all contributed to controlling the budget despite increased demand, caused by the recession and other factors, such as the rise in child protection cases. It is clear from what is said in the CSR paper that the government will be consulting on a radical reshaping of the legal aid system with big cuts likely in the type of cases legal aid will pay for. Increased competition is also promised and it is suggested that further cuts in remuneration are in the pipeline.
The MoJ has to deliver a business plan in the next month which is supposed to map out how it is going to deliver the budget cuts over the next four years. Even if it manages to produce this, there will be a real struggle to deliver the cuts as they are likely to be dependent on legislation on sentencing being approved by parliament within the next two years and changes in legal aid, which might also require legislation.
Image: Legal Action Group