Government acts on our calls for crucial investment in the justice system
Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP’s autumn budget has delivered a shot in the arm for the justice system. We’re pleased that the UK government has heard our calls for much-needed investment to address the courts backlog, invest in a sustainable civil legal aid market and help the justice system recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here we explore five ways that the budget impacts solicitors and the legal profession.
1. Government listens to our call for investment in the justice system
The government has taken a step in the right direction by reinvesting in the justice system.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will have a £3.2 billion increase in its budget to £11.5 billion in 2024/25. This is equivalent to a real-terms growth rate of 3.3% per year on average over the spending review period.
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “We are relieved the government listened to us.
“We stressed in our submission to HM Treasury that the MoJ’s budget needed to rise at least in line with inflation for the duration of the spending round. So, we welcome news the MoJ will have a £3.2 billion increase in its budget”.
2. Sunak acts on our campaigns to improve access to justice and address courts backlog
The government has committed to better access to justice by investing more than £1 billion to:
- increase capacity and efficiency across the courts system
- tackle the growing court backlogs
- help the system recover from the COVID-19 pandemic
£477 million has been allocated to fund the criminal justice backlog, improve waiting times for victims of crime and reduce the Crown Court backlog from 60,000 cases to 53,000 cases by 2024/25.
£324 million has been committed to address the backlogs in the civil, family and tribunal jurisdictions, while more than £200 million is aimed at completing the MoJ’s court reform programme by 2024/25.
I. Stephanie Boyce said: “It is with great relief that the government has listened to us and has pledged to invest in the sustainability of the civil legal aid market.
“We have long warned the civil legal aid sector is in a precarious state and urgent action needs to be taken. This is to give confidence and security to civil providers in the medium-term and to help them survive while a more lasting solution is found.
“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.”
3. More funds will be available for small and medium-sized businesses
In its levelling up agenda, announced before the budget, the government pledged £1.4 billion to ensure small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can access finance across the UK through a range of programmes. This includes:
- the Start-Up Loans scheme
- the Regional Angels programme
- expanding regional funds
The government has also allocated £196 million in 2024/25 for the Help to Grow Schemes – which aim to enable more than 100,000 SMEs to access training and tools to boost their productivity and performance.
This is welcome for members working in small and medium-sized towns who support SMEs by ensuring the validity of their contracts, advising on the day-to-day work of businesses as well as dealing with serious legal problems on their behalf.
4. More needs to be done on homes and cladding
The government has previously committed more than £5 billion, including £3 billion over the spending review period, to remove unsafe cladding from the highest-risk buildings. This is supported by revenues raised from the new residential property developer tax.
The hope is that this tax will generate £2 billion over 10 years to fund the removal and replacement of combustible cladding. However, the full cost of cladding remediation is estimated at as much as £15 billion.
We’ve called on the government to provide additional financial support to leaseholders to help cover the costs associated with managing and rectifying the dangerous cladding on their homes.
It’s disappointing that no new money was found in the budget to assist long leaseholders in unsafe properties.
In addition to the financial and emotional burden on some leaseholders, the concerns about unsafe flats are impacting on flat sales in the wider property and lending markets.
5. Disappointment with the economic crime levy
An investment of £18 million in 2022/23 and £12 million per year in 2023 to 2025 has been allocated to deliver reforms in the economic crime plan and tackling fraud.
The economic crime levy was also referenced and will be used to tackle economic crime.
We strongly oppose the imposition of the levy on principle and are disappointed the government has decided to move forward with it.
The levy effectively represents a tax on the provision of legal services, undermining the competitiveness of a key British industry at a time when the sector should be championed.
Discover more about the economic crime levy and how we’re championing members’ interests.
Our next steps
We proudly stand for the needs of solicitors in England and Wales, and represent your views at the highest levels of government. We will continue to:
- push for greater investment in our justice system
- actively monitor the implementation of the policies contained within the budget
- work with members, government, and parliament to shape the response to the issues affecting the justice system