Legal Aid

Government legal aid spending cuts called into question

PUBLISHED December 7, 2009

Figures showing a fall in the cost of criminal defence work have called into question the government?s drive to introduce more spending cuts.

Statistics obtained from the Legal Services Commission by More4 News showed that the amount spent nationally on criminal defence services has fallen over the last five years for which data was available.

They showed a 12% drop in the amount spent on police station and magistrates? courts work, from £516m in 2003/04 to £454m in 2007/08. The Crown court spend had risen over the last five years, but fell from £719m in 2007/08 to £689m in 2008/09.

The broadcaster sought the figures after the Gazette revealed a 15% drop in the cost of police station and magistrates? court work in Greater Manchester since 2005, following a freedom of information request made by Franklin Sinclair, a partner at Tuckers in Manchester. The LSC said then that the figures for Greater Manchester were not borne out nationally.

An LSC spokesman said: ?We apologise if we previously gave the impression that there hadn't been a reduction in police station and magistrates? court expenditure nationally over recent years.

?Unfortunately, the figures only related to the investigations class of work, which pertains solely to police station expenditure, rather than a combined investigations and proceedings figure (police stations and magistrates? court work) that was the subject of the article.?

He said police station expenditure for 2008/09 has risen back to near 2005/06 levels.

Law Society head of legal aid Richard Miller said: ?The figures call into question whether there?s a need to bring in drastic measures to cut the criminal legal aid spend.?

Sinclair added: ?This must be the only area of government spending that has decreased in real terms over the last five years, and yet it is planning even more savage cuts on what has become an almost unprofitable area of work.?

Meanwhile, the LSC is set to launch a consultation on a new scheme for very high cost criminal cases (VHCC) this week. Criminal Bar Association chairman Paul Mendell QC said the proposed regime will leave litigators and advocates undertaking VHCC worse off than under the current scheme, and on terms less favourable than those put forward by the Bar Council.