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Nicola Laver

Editor, Solicitors Journal

An extra £500m for the courts doesn't go far enough

An extra £500m for the courts doesn't go far enough


A £413m government investment into the family courts and tribunals, boost court capacity and support victims of crime, has been announced by the chancellor  

A £413m government investment into the family courts and tribunals, boost court capacity and support victims of crime, has been announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak.

The extra cash, bringing the total now pledged to the justice system to more than £500m, has been welcomed by the Law Society but it said more needs to be done. 

At his annual press conference on 2 December, Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett made clear that the courts are “a vital public service and more because they underpin the rule of law”.

He welcomed the increased in funding and talked of the need for speed, fairness and efficiency in the disposal of cases.

To increase the court’s capacity, he said: “I will deploy judges, salaried, fee-paid and those sitting in retirement to the full with the aim of reducing backlogs over the next financial year.”

But he warned the coming year will be tough.

£105m of the amount committed will be spent on improvements to the court and £76m will increase capacity in the family court and employment tribunal and reduce the backlog.

The chancellor also announced a further £4 billion to create 18,000 additional prison places.

The Ministry of Justice said £337m of extra funding will “support the government’s crime agenda - delivering swift and effective justice to convict offenders, support victims, and protect the wider public”.

£43 million is to be used to ensure that courts and prisons remain covid-safe.

The additional cash comes on top of existing spending on courts, including £142m for modernising buildings and improving technology as well as £83m committed in September to make the estate covid-secure.

Justice secretary Robert Buckland said: “This funding will help us speed up justice in our courts and continue to deliver modern prison places that keep criminals off the streets and cut reoffending.”

Law Society president David Greene said that as part of its ‘reset, resilience and recovery’ campaign, the Society had called for extra funds to make the justice system sustainable. 

He added: “We are pleased the chancellor has listened and adopted our recommendations. 

“Justice in this country was in a dire situation already before the pandemic, and is under pressure now like never before, so the £275m pledged to reduce persistent crown court backlogs has come not a moment too soon.” 

But though the cash injection was welcomed, Greene warned: “Further urgent investment is needed to preserve the vital criminal legal aid market.”

According to LexisNexis, criminal litigation is down by 18%, crown court cases and trial volumes are down almost 30% since 2017; the volume of appellants has fallen by 27% and appeals by more than 30%. 

Furthermore, magistrates’ cases have fallen by 9% while court activity is down because of social distancing requirements. 

David Greene commented: “Without a sustainable criminal legal aid profession victims and defendants will be unable to access the legal advice they rely on. 

“People need more from the criminal justice system than police and prisons – they need a sustainable advice sector to ensure their cases are dealt with swiftly and justice is done.”