Contrary to accusations from politicians and the media, research has confirmed that the activities of government departments ? mainly the Home Office ? have created an ever-rising legal aid budget, and not the actions of criminal defence solicitors. In fact, the researchers are concerned that the raft of criminal justice consultations launched in the last decade has ignored the potential impact on legal aid, which has now left the Department for Constitutional Affairs trying to prevent an overspend of ?130 million.
Not only will this leave many criminal law specialist practices ? and their clients ? in the lurch, but it has come at the expense of the Community Legal Service, which the Legal Services Commission (LSC) admitted this week is still failing one million people annually (see comment). Practitioners are now arguing that the LSC can try to tackle the problems through its five-year strategy for civil legal aid, but it seems it will remain the ?Cinderella? of the legal arena until the government either pumps more money in or ring-fences the civil budget from crime.
There was optimism last week that a new legal aid review, to be headed by Lord Carter of Coles, might tackle the problem when it reports early next year. But in light of the study on drivers of crime spending, the main hope must be that Lord Carter will exert influence over government policy-makers generally, and not just those responsible for legal aid.