The government’s plans to cut criminal legal aid and privatise parts of the court services appeared to edge one step closer yesterday following Chancellor George Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review, under which The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will see its budget slashed by 10% over the next 18 months.
The MoJ suffered one of the highest level of cuts of all welfare and public sector departments in yesterday’s review, with its budget of £6.8bn in 2014-15 to drop to £6.2bn the following year.
Most of the savings appear to come from the courts, raising the suggestion that justice minister Chris Grayling’s (pictured) controversial plans to shave off £220m from criminal legal aid is no longer open to debate, to the dismay of lawyers from all strands of the profession who have campaigned hard against it.
The review also reveals plans to save £200m in the costs of running the courts through partial privatisation, efficiency savings or rises in legal fees. Reform of public sector prisons, meanwhile, is expected to lead to a £180m saving.
This is the latest of a series of MoJ spending cuts under the current government that has seen its budget shrink from £9bn when the coalition came into power to current levels, with cuts to legal aid accounting for much of the savings.
The government’s spending review in October 2010 saw the MoJ’s budget slashed by 23% over four years as part of the most severe program of public spending cuts since the Second World War, intending to take the spend to £7bn by 2014-15. This was followed in March this year with an additional £142m of cuts, divided into £73m in 2013/14 and a further £69m in 2014/15.
The legal profession has united in the face of more recent proposed cuts to criminal legal aid, including unusually militant action by lawyers who took to the streets to protest on 4 June, forming a blockade outside the MoJ, and from court staff who went on strike on 17 June.