The amount spent on criminal legal aid is said to be over a billion pounds a year. It has been used in the Consultation document, accompanying press releases and articles by the Secretary of State.
A proper considered analysis of the figures reveal a different picture. The suggested spend figure for criminal work in the Consultation document is put at £1.109 billion.
These figures relate to work billed in the period 2011/12. As such, it relates to historic work billed in that financial year and does not provide an accurate spending figure for current rates. The point about this is that the reductions imposed since 2010 are not reflected in the published figures.
The up to date spending figure, we are told, will be provided prior to any bid round. They are in fact available as projected figures. The latest figures available are contained in the Business Plan for the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) published on 16 April. This will be subject to scrutiny from the Audit Office and is the first Business Plan from the LAA. These figures will be accurate.
The projected spend on criminal legal aid is £941 million for financial year 2013/14. The saving on the figures used in the consultation document is already £168 million.
The aim of the consultation is to achieve savings, from the criminal budget, of £220 million by 2018/19. If the correct figures are used the saving needed is £52 million.
The effect of previous reductions in scope are still being felt and will have an impact on the overall spend going forward. This is conceded in the LAA’s Business Plan.
The historic spending figures also reveal the extent of the cuts already imposed. A consultation document from the MoJ released in November 2010 (Proposals for Legal Aid Reform) provide the historic spending figures on criminal legal aid.
In real terms, allowing for inflation, the current projected spend is less than the spend on criminal legal aid in 1997/98, when the spend was £955 million (page 215). Even this figure is 3/4 years out of date.
The amount of legislative changes since 1997/98 have been significant and this has been a cost driver. The prison population in 1997 was (including those subject to a suspended prison sentence) 69,000. The prison population in 2011 was (again including those subject to a suspended prison sentence) 116,000. These figures are in a report published by the MoJ in 2013 entitled Story of the Prison Population in England & Wales 1993-2012.
Despite the increase in the complexity of the work we are being asked to deal with and the seriousness of the work, as judged by the substantial increase in the number of cases crossing the custody threshold, the efficiency of the legal aid system is evident.
The savings and efficiencies that are being asked of the legal profession have already been achieved and then some.