Independent report reveals true economic and social cost of the government’s proposed £350 million legal aid cuts.
As the government’s proposed £350 million legal aid cuts return to be debated in the House of Lords, an independent report from one of Britain’s leading universities reveals how these changes will incur new costs for the taxpayer by simply shifting the burden onto other parts of the public purse, such as the NHS.
The King’s College London (KCL) report, Unintended Consequences: the cost of the Government’s Legal Aid Reforms, shows that the cuts proposed in the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Bill will give rise to unbudgeted costs of at least £139 million, undermining Ken Clarke’s contribution to the Government’s deficit reduction target.
By substantially reducing the scope of Legal Aid in three main areas alone: family law, social welfare and clinical negligence, the Ministry of Justice claims expected savings of £240 million. The KCL report estimates the costs, to this and other Government Departments, to exceed £139 million – which would wipe out almost 60% of the claimed savings.
The report author, respected academic Dr Graham Cookson said: “This research undermines the Government’s economic rationale for changing the scope of legal aid by casting doubt on their claims of realising savings to the public purse.”
“Without a trial, it is impossible to say for certain what the impact of the proposals will be, just as it is impossible for the Government to assert that there will be a net saving of £270 million per annum.
Desmond Hudson, CEO of the Law Society said: “The Ministry of Justice has defended swingeing cuts to Legal Aid in civil cases, which will deny justice to thousands, on its need to contribute savings to the Government’s deficit reduction programme. The Law Society accepts the need to achieve savings, but this report confirms that much of the Ministry of Justice’s claimed savings are being achieved at the expense of other parts of Government. This is kamikaze accounting and will do little to tackle the deficit while sacrificing access to justice. Should we be promoting our justice system internationally while denying access to ordinary citizens?”
In addition to the unbudgeted costs identified in the KCL report, earlier research revealed other knock-on costs not accounted for by Government. These appear to outweigh the savings from the Ministry of Justice budget that the Government claims the Bill will deliver, and should be assessed properly before the changes are forced through. Earlier research includes:
Citizens Advice – Towards a business case for legal aid (July 2010) suggested that the Bill’s proposed cut of £60m from social welfare legal aid will cause the withdrawal of advice services that save the state £338.65m in spending on other services.
London Economics – The Fiscal Impact of the Jackson Proposals (November 2011) found a net loss to the Exchequer of more than £70m a year from changes to the rules on “no win, no fee” cases.
The legislation was widely criticised during the House of Lords Second Reading, while the Ministry of Justice’s evidence base has been challenged by the Commons Justice Select Committee and Public Accounts Committee and the Bill’s impact on access to justice has raised serious concerns for the Lords Constitution Committee. The original consultation on the Bill produced 5,000 responses, the majority of which were against the proposals tabled.
Desmond Hudson continued:
“The Law Society has a set of alternative proposals for meeting the Ministry’s deficit reduction target which, while not without pain, would preserve access to justice in most cases. It is time for the Government to work with the Law Society and other groups to radically reshape this Bill.”
Please find below the full report, executive summary, key paragraphs from the report and Sound Off For Justice partner quotes to download: