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Budget: Cash for dispute resolution – but MoJ spending cut by £500m

By Gazette Newsdesk >>

(6 March 2024)

Investment in non-court dispute resolution and ‘digital solutions’ against a 4.8% cut in spending at the Ministry of Justice are the stand-outs from chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s pre-election spring budget today.

‘The government has once again failed to address the crisis facing our justice system,’ the Law Society said. 

Announcing a headline investment figure for modernising justice, the chancellor observed: ‘Too many legal cases, particularly in family law, should never go to court and it would cost us less if they didn’t. So we will spend £170m to fund non-court resolution, reduce reoffending and digitise the court process.’

However the Treasury’s budget ‘red book’ published this afternoon reveals that this sum breaks down into £55m for the family courts ‘to offer online targeted guidance and earlier legal advice, shortening wait times and supporting families through non-court dispute resolution’. Of the rest, £100m is for rehabilitative activities in prisons and £15m ‘to introduce digital solutions, reducing administrative burdens in the courts’.

Meanwhile, budget spending limits published today show a planned 4.8% cut in operational spending on justice to £10bn in 2024-25, from £10.5bn in 2023-24. Capital spending, however, will rise by 20% from £1.5bn to £1.8bn in 2024-25. 

Commenting on the budget, Law Society president Nick Emmerson said: ‘The UK government has once again failed to address the crisis facing our justice system. Small amounts of money to the family court system for early advice are welcome, but it shows the government isn’t facing up to the challenges plaguing the justice system.

‘Only through investment in staff, judges, legal professionals and our court buildings can the government begin to address these issues.’

Bar chair Sam Townend KC agreed: ‘The money announced for family courts and criminal justice today is welcome, but it is a drop in the ocean in terms of what the justice sector really needs to get back to working order after years of underinvestment,’ he said. ‘Court buildings are crumbling, solicitors and barristers are burned out, and victims and defendants are left in the backlogs. Justice delays lead to injustice.

‘On the day that the senior presiding judge rightly announced a push to hear the 181 rape cases that have been delayed for over two years, it is vital that the system is properly funded so that public confidence in justice can be restored.’

Nick Gova, head of family at London firm Spector Constant & Williams, said the investment could help relieve pressure on the family court system. ‘Moving matters from court as a first resort to other forms of non-court resolution will assist parties and lighten the burden on courts, allowing them to deal with complicated cases and matters requiring intervention. Investment in technology will facilitate quicker resolution.’

The budget also announces:

  • A doubling of the Economic Crime (anti-money laundering) Levy payable by large businesses from £250,000 to £500,000 per year. ‘This is a response to lower-than-expected receipts, and additional revenue will be used to deliver existing commitments on economic crime.’
  • £10m additional funding for digitising jury bundles in the criminal courts, reducing paper wastage and unnecessary trial delays. ‘This will save up to 55,000 hours a year in court preparation time to enable reducing the length of trials.’
  • Piloting the use of AI solutions to support planning authorities to streamline their local plan development processes, ‘producing plans in 30 months rather than the current average of seven years’. 
  • Modernisation of communications from HM Courts & Tribunal Service ‘by bringing forward digital reforms and reducing spend on first class post’.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)