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£500m justice funding boost welcomed, but much more still needs to be done
New spending plans unveiled by the Treasury today to boost the justice system by just over £500 million are good news in a time of crisis, but after decades of cuts much more still needs to be done.
Law Society of England and Wales president David Greene said: “We welcome the pledge of cash for the justice system.
“As part of our Reset, Resilience and Recovery campaign we called for extra funds to make the justice system sustainable. 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 £275 million pledged to reduce persistent Crown Court backlogs has come not a moment too soon.”
The total amount going to the justice system is just over £500 million. £337 million has been provided for the criminal justice system in England and Wales including £40 million to support victims of crime and domestic abuse.
To help the wider justice system cope with COVID-19, the chancellor has guaranteed an additional £119 million, including £76 million to increase family court and employment tribunal capacity to reduce backlogs.
£43 million has also been secured to ensure that courts and prisons remain COVID-safe – a key concern of legal practitioners and a consistent theme of the Law Society’s representations to the government.
While we welcome this cash injection, further urgent investment is needed to preserve the vital criminal legal aid market. LexisNexis has published its Gross Legal Product Index, which quantifies legal demand growth and the impact of COVID-19.
Criminal lawyers have a “starkly negative” outlook. Criminal litigation is down by 18% and crown cases and trial volumes are down almost 30% since 2017, while the volume of appellants has fallen by 27% and appeals by more than 30%. Magistrates cases have fallen by 9% while court activity is down because of social distancing requirements.
Between 2010 and 2020, 38% of the criminal legal aid provider base disappeared, meaning criminal lawyers had less resilience in the face of the pandemic and were hit particularly hard.
While the investment announced today will help in the short term, it will be essential to move at pace on the Criminal Legal Aid Review (CLAR) to give firms confidence to hang on through the downturn. We are pleased that the lord chancellor has confirmed that the next stage of the review will start before the end of the year.
David Greene added: “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.”
Notes to editors
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