Legal aid spending has fallen 28% since 2013

updated on 12 February 2024

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A report from the National Audit Office (NAO) found that legal aid spending has fallen by 28% over the past decade. The Lady Chief Justice Dame Sue Carr and chair of the Bar Council, Sam Townend KC, warned that continued lack of investment could affect England and Wales’ international reputation.

Overall, the report found that spending on state-backed legal support dropped from £2.58 billion to £1.86 billion between 2012/13 and 2022/23. The areas facing the most shortages are housing and immigration legal aid.

In 2012, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment Offenders Act 2012 was introduced. The act cut legal aid spending, resulting in "legal aid deserts".

Richard Atkinson, vice president of the Law Society, said: "Millions of people now live in areas where they can no longer access the help and advice that Parliament has said they are entitled to.

“The people who are affected most by this are families facing eviction, victims of abuse seeking the protection they need or a vulnerable person denied access to the care they’re entitled to.”

NAO suggested that cuts are increasing the workload of other public services. For example, unresolved disputes in the housing sector mean that authorities are spending more money providing temporary housing. The NAO also noted that fewer lawyers are willing to take on legal aid work as civil fees are around half what they were 28 years ago.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has commented that: “Last year alone, we’ve spent nearly £2 billion helping people facing legal difficulties, including thousands of families and domestic abuse victims.”

However, the Law Society recently brought a case to the High Court warning that many criminal legal aid cases have become economically unviable. The ruling of the case also found that the MoJ fell short when it decided not to implement the findings of an independent review.

Atkinson commented: “This report comes at a timely moment for the future of civil and criminal legal aid. Both systems are on their knees, with evidence showing that it is becoming increasingly difficult for legal aid providers to sustain a business.”

“We urge the government to properly invest in our justice system so the public can have confidence in it.”