This submission sets out our key recommendations to the Treasury for the 2020 comprehensive spending review.
The UK’s legal services sector is an economic powerhouse, one of the largest in the world, while England and Wales is renowned internationally as a global legal centre.
However, lack of investment in our justice system domestically has placed the sector’s economic success at risk and caused mounting problems that have a detrimental impact on the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who rely on the justice system every year.
The justice system is a vital public service, allowing people to enforce their rights, protect their interests and seek redress when these have been unfairly violated.
It plays another role, however, in empowering individuals to take control over the decisions that affect their lives and their communities.
Access to justice is one of the crucial building blocks of vibrant, successful communities.
Guaranteeing access to justice for all is an essential step towards levelling up those communities that have fallen behind in recent years and unleashing the full potential of the people who live there.
This spending review is an opportunity to reverse the trends of recent years and make sure that people in England and Wales are able to count on the highest quality of service from our justice system, while unlocking the power of the legal services sector to drive the recovery from COVID-19.
Our key recommendations in this submission is made up of three parts.
Protect the MoJ’s budget
We recommend that the Treasury commits to ringfencing the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) budget and ensuring that it rises yearly at least in line with inflation throughout this spending round.
Prioritise targeted MoJ budget increases to improve the working of the justice system
We recommend that specific funding be made available to the MoJ for:
- restoring legal aid for early advice from a solicitor, to help clear the current courts backlog and improve outcomes for justice system users
- supporting the sustainability of the legal aid provider base – specifically, funding should be allocated for:
- the reinstatement of criminal legal aid fees at their pre-2014 level, before they were reduced by 8.75%, to ensure that legal aid work remains economical for firms
- ending legal aid deserts by commissioning new providers to ensure that everyone in this country is able to access legal advice wherever they are when they need it
- concluding the criminal legal aid review and implementing any uprating in fees recommended by the review
- concluding the legal aid means test review and increasing eligibility to ensure all those who need it can access legal aid
Invest for the future to unleash the full potential of legal services
We recommend an investment strategy that can unleash legal services to drive the economic recovery from COVID-19, harness lawtech to build a UK scientific superpower, and reinforce the UK’s place in the world as a global legal centre.
We’re recommending that the Treasury:
- empower law firms to create the new jobs that will provide the backbone of the sector in the long-term, by giving them the flexibility to spend apprenticeship levy money on:
- lawtech seats and training in lawtech skills
- training in secondary specialisations that will enable people to re-train in other practice areas
- training contracts to maintain the jobs pipeline for students about to complete the LPC
- supporting other organisations (including in the third sector) by funding joint roles – enabling firms to deliver pro bono work in partnership with legal charities, help to meet the likely rise in demand for such services and provide more efficient access to legal advice
- fund the provision of a loan scheme for Solicitors Qualifying Exam applicants from September 2021 onwards, so people from all backgrounds can access the profession
- invest in driving the adoption of technologies that will build the resilience of local economies and provide the bedrock of our future prosperity – including:
- providing tax incentives for law firms, legal services providers and lawtech start-up that develop and adopt lawtech, such as research and development tax credits and allowances (similar to capital allowances)
- extending the eligibility of the future fund to lawtech start-ups in England by relaxing the requirement of a minimum level of £250,000 of seed capital
- embracing the data revolution by establishing a legal data trust to improve accessibility of data for those seeking to innovate in the legal services sector
- investing in upskilling the judiciary to ensure the business and property courts are able to deal efficiently with intellectual property claims arising from lawtech, and task the Intellectual Property Office with educating firms and lawtech developers on how to ensure their lawtech IP is protected