The Vice-President of the Law Society of England and Wales, Nick Emmerson, has warned that the cuts in justice spending announced as part of the autumn statement yesterday, will “likely lead to system failure”. Here’s his full response.
The justice system is in crisis and facing systemic failure. Increased funding is vital to keep it functioning.
But instead, with inflation so high, the Ministry of Justice budget has effectively been cut. There aren’t any more savings to be made in a justice system which is already breaking down after decades of underinvestment.
We are faced with a situation where access to justice is needed more than ever but has never been so endangered.
In criminal justice, there are huge backlogs in the courts. Victims’, witnesses’ and defendants’ lives are in limbo as they wait years for justice, with cases listed as far ahead as 2024.
Courts are crumbling, dogged by delays, and there are chronic shortages of judges and lawyers as professionals leave this underpaid work in their droves. Duty schemes are failing, leaving the right to representation at police stations in peril.
Recruiting more police and talking tough on crime will matter little if the courts can’t deal with the volume of cases already going through the system, let alone many more. Criminals may instead be emboldened.
UK government should commit to implementing the increase recommended by the Bellamy Review for the fees which government pays solicitors for criminal legal aid work, to help ensure they are there when needed.
In civil justice, there are vast legal aid deserts across England and Wales, meaning people who are entitled to legal aid can’t access it.
The cost-of-living crisis and public spending cuts mean more and more people will need legal help with life-changing issues such as homelessness and debt. But who is going to give that vital advice if there aren’t enough solicitors to meet the current demand? The government will be forced to pick up the pieces, at greater cost, further down the line.
The means test must be adjusted in line with the proposals consulted on earlier this year so people can access vital legal advice in times of crisis, such as this recession.
There will be little stability and the vulnerable will not be protected if we no longer have a functioning justice system to be proud of.