Criminal Legal Aid underspend of £33 million – why the cuts?

Time to re-think the legal aid cuts Mr Grayling?

In the consultation on legal aid cuts, Mr Grayling stated that he wanted to save £220 million from the criminal legal aid budget (including prison law) by 2018/19 and was starting from a base of the 2011/12 figures where the spend was £1.08 billion.

The budget for 2012/13 was a projected £1.05 billion but the actual spend came in £50 million lower at £975 million. The projected figure for 2013/14 was £941 million and this firm suggested that the cost would be far below that figure in a blog on 30th October 2013. The LAA has now published the dullest of documents its Annual Report and Accounts 2013-14 but hidden in there are the actual figures for the spend on criminal work in 2013/14. Unsurprisingly the figure is well below the projected spend of £941 million and comes in at £908.6 million. That is an underspend of £33 million. In the last two years therefore there has been an underspend against projected costs in criminal legal aid alone of a staggering £83 million. There is still 5 years to go before 2018/19 and it seems like the Government will get there without any further cuts. I think we may have heard this said before somewhere.

You will remember Mr Grayling swiftly dismissing the Oxford Economics report which was commissioned by the Law Society and the criminal practitioner groups and which predicted a falling spend absent any further rate cuts due to a fall in volume of work which had been steadily falling for the previous five years or so. The MOJ continues to predict its spend on a flat line rather than the actual falling curve. Mr Grayling would have none of it and found the figures and methodology of the independent report unreliable. We are within 1% of our estimated spend he said. But this was either a lie or a mistake as the MOJ was 5% out on the figures for 2012/13. They are 3.5% out on the figures for 2013/14.

The report suggests that there might be a reason for the shortfall at page 30:

“Crime Lower – There has been a decrease in expenditure due to a fall in the volume of magistrates’ court work with a reduction of 30,000 (6%) in the number of magistrates’ court representation claims.

Crime Higher – There has been a small decrease in the average cost of cases due to LAR and pre-LAR changes to AGFS. Volumes have decreased due to a reduction in the number of Crown Court sitting days and there have been 23% fewer high cost case contracts

So one of the reasons for the shortfall is falling volume. Who would have guessed that?

Will Mr Grayling now reconsider his disastrous cuts to the criminal legal aid system and finally do what lawyers do and consider the actual evidence. He prefers anecdote and rumour but the hard financial evidence which comes from the LAA’s own figures shows that these cuts are unnecessary. We may sound like a cracked record as we have been saying it since the consultation started in April 2103 but the reason we are saying it is because it is true. It is time for the MOJ and Grayling to start listening. If they do not, they provide further proof that the cuts are about ideology rather than austerity.

Look again Mr Grayling and consider the evidence, like a lawyer would.

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