Ministry of Justice in budget crisis
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is seeking extra cash from the Treasury after lower-than-expected income from court fees and an increase in the detection and prosecution of sexual and violent offences. It also appears to have overestimated the savings that the court closure programme will realise.
Details of the MoJ’s budget woes were revealed by the department’s top civil servant, Richard Heaton, in a letter sent to the House of Commons justice committee in March and made public last month. In the letter, Heaton reveals that the department is seeking an extra £427m in cash to meet the budget deficit. He argues that ‘… we have managed our budgets well for the last five years, but … a combination of events went against us this year’.
The letter sets out in stark detail the depth of the financial problems at the MoJ. Heaton describes the 10 per cent cut demanded in 2013 by the Treasury as ‘challenging’, especially as it had followed the 27 per cent reduction that had been required in the previous three years. In the current budget, the MoJ is expected to find further savings of 15 per cent, but it’s clear now that it will not achieve this. According to Heaton, the department’s budget had been based on the assumption that the ‘workload in the criminal justice system would be broadly flat’. An increase in the prosecution of serious offences especially ‘sexual and other violent offences, including domestic violence’, along with a greater-than-estimated growth in the prison population, has led to overspends. Due to a combination of factors, including lower numbers using the courts than expected, fee income has also failed to reach the targets set in the MoJ’s budget.
The justice committee had sought details about the MoJ’s request for additional cash to cover court and prison buildings earmarked for closure by the department. In his letter to the committee, Heaton outlines why the MoJ is seeking an additional £330m to cover the loss of the value of the buildings from the department’s budget.
‘This is a budget crisis that has been building for some years,’ said LAG’s director, Steve Hynes (pictured). ‘To a great extent, expenditure at the MoJ is determined by factors outside its control, but it also looks like they have overestimated the savings that closing prisons and courts will bring.’
■ From 18 April, a raft of increased charges in the Court of Appeal and the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) were introduced. Many of these increases have more than doubled the previous fees. For example, an application for permission to appeal in the Court of Appeal has increased from £235 to £528 (Court of Appeal and Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) Fees (Amendment) Order 2016 SI No 434).