Autumn Budget 2021: Justice system funding 'step in the right direction'
The chancellor blamed covid-19 for the courts backlog
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced significant funding for courts, prisons and probation services over the next three years, including funding to clear the courts backlog, in the government’s Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021.
The Budget acknowledged public safety “relies upon a strong and effective criminal justice system” and that there had been “a growing backlog” of cases, which it blamed on covid-19.
£477m has been allocated over the next three years to fund “the criminal justice system’s recovery from covid-19”, to include tackling court backlogs and increasing the number of cases dealt with by the courts. The government aims to reduce the Crown Court backlog from 60,000 cases to 53,000 cases by 2024 - 25.
The Budget has also provided for an extra £540m by 2024 - 25 to recruit the final 8,000 police officers to meet the government’s commitment of 20,000 additional officers by 2023. Almost £650m has been allocated in additional funding by 2024 - 25 to manage the increased number of offenders being brought to justice by these officers.
Law Society president, I. Stephanie Boyce, commented: “We welcome news the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will have a £3.2bn increase in its budget to £11.5 bn in 2024 - 25, equivalent to a real-terms growth rate of 3.3% per year on average over the spending review period.
“In our submission to HM Treasury we stressed the need for the MoJ’s budget to rise at least in line with inflation for the duration of the spending round and we are relieved the government listened to us.
“It is good news the government has committed to better access to justice by investing more than £1bn to increase capacity and efficiency across the courts system, tackle the growing court backlogs and help the system recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“A healthy legal system is vital for individuals, businesses and achieving levelling up. Legal aid for people on lower incomes and efficient courts are pillars of a fair society. Few things are more empowering than the ability to uphold and protect our rights.”
£324m has also been committed to address backlogs in the civil, family and tribunal jurisdictions, while more than £200m has been allocated to complete the MoJ’s court reform programme by 2024 - 2025.
I. Stephanie Boyce added: “We have long warned the civil legal aid sector is in a precarious state and urgent action needs to be taken – to give confidence and security to civil providers in the medium-term and to help them survive while a more lasting solution is found.
“It is with great relief that we learn that the UK government has listened to us and has pledged to invest in the sustainability of the civil legal aid market.
“The thresholds for means-tested legal aid will increase, which will expand access to justice for those who cannot afford it. We have long campaigned for this change, which means that millions more should be able to access justice in our courts. We are also optimistic that improvements are on the horizon for criminal legal aid.
“The money announced today will not solve all the problems afflicting our justice system overnight, but it is a step in the right direction. We encourage the government to build on this by fully funding the recommendations of the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid, restoring legal aid for early legal advice and ending the legal aid deserts that now stretch across most of England and Wales.”