New research on justice cuts and austerity published
Marc Bloomfield
The Bar Council has published a new report on the funding of the justice system. Funding for justice 2008 to 2018: justice in the age of austerity, by Martin Chalkley, a professor of economics at the University of York, was launched last night (31 October 2018) at ‘Justice cuts: the stories behind the numbers’, a Justice Week event in London. Speaking at the event, Andrew Walker QC, chair of the bar, explained that the research showed that in ‘real terms the expenditure on justice has been reduced by 27 per cent’ over the past 10 years, adding that the spending cuts were even higher for some parts of the system. He described the findings as ‘deeply depressing for anyone who cares about justice’
In the report, Professor Chalkley points out that the UK’s real GDP has grown by around 13 per cent in the past 10 years and that ‘it would not be unreasonable to expect the justice system to grow along with the economy’ (page 7). He argues it would be fair to conclude that the government ‘has taken a conscious decision to substantially withdraw public funding for the support of the justice system and for promoting access to justice’ (page 11).
According to Professor Chalkley, one of the ‘big losers within the Ministry of Justice’ (MoJ) has been legal aid, which has been hit with a budget cut of 32 per cent over 10 years. He contrasts this with other categories of public expenditure, such as health, which has seen growth of 25 per cent in the same period. Even for those areas that have suffered cuts (for example, education, in which expenditure has dropped by five per cent since 2008), he argues they have been hit far less in proportion to the overall reduction of nearly 30 per cent the MoJ has suffered in the same period.
The Bar Council has also produced a short film to highlight the impact of the legal aid cuts. Ian Howgate, who features in the film, attended the event last night. He was dismissed from his post as director of a large company after he revealed accounting irregularities. The circumstances of his dismissal caused him to have mental health problems. He had to fight a case against his local council to recover £15,000 in unpaid housing benefit without any legal advice or representation. He believes he was fortunate to win the case and that people need legal aid ‘as you could be in my shoes tomorrow’.
As part of its campaigning work in Justice Week, the Bar Council is asking people to sign a petition calling on the government to increase the availability of legal aid to people on low incomes.

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