The Law Society has commissioned an independent financial report that questions legal aid figures used by the government when calculating the potential savings they will make over the coming years. The report claims that, even without the planned government legal aid funding cuts, the cost of legal aid would drop by £80m a year by 2019. There would be a steady decline in costs year on year, which directly challenges the government’s figures, which show a steady legal aid spend after the year 2014.
The ministry of Justice claims that the annual legal aid bill is around £2bn a year, and they have highlighted cuts and changes to the system that they believe will shave £220m from the criminal legal aid bill that the country faces every year. Approximately £120m of this will come from cuts to the cost of lawyers attending police stations and representation in court.
The legal aid cuts have been heavily challenged, and by many groups, even including the government’s own group of lawyers. Earlier this month, courts across the country were left empty as lawyers and barristers staged a strike against the reforms and cuts. It is the first time in the history of the criminal legal aid sector that such a strike has been sanctioned, meaning that the morning of the 6th January will go down in history.
The Law Society has also questioned the figures that have been used by the government to justify their swathing cuts. They have produced their own report, written by Oxford Economics, that questions the Legal Aid Agency figures used by the government. The new study points to a steady downward trend in crime figures in the UK – a trend that has been persistent for the past ten years but is not evident in the government report.
In fact, the government report uses steady figures from 2014 onwards, and the Oxford Economics report states that by continuing the downward trend, it is possible to identify a cut of £80m or more per year by the year 2019 when compared to the government’s figures.