The government cannot tell if a decade of cuts to legal aid spending has been value for money as it may have had a knock-on effect on other public services, a new report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.
The Ministry of Justice has achieved its aim of significantly reducing legal aid spending in the last decade, cutting from £728m off the £2.5bn bill in 2012-13 to £1.8bn in 2022-23.
But that has had a knock-on effect on access to legal advice for vulnerable people. There was a 9% fall in the proportion of the population in England and Wales within 10 kilometres of housing advice. The fall from 73% in 2013-14 to 64% a decade later comes as the number of renters facing eviction proceedings is rising.
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “The Ministry of Justice has succeeded in its objective of significantly reducing spending on legal aid. However, it still lacks a complete understanding of the wider costs arising from the reforms and so cannot demonstrate a spending reduction for the public purse overall. Nor does it collect sufficient data to understand whether people entitled to legal aid are able to access it.
“The MoJ must ensure that access to legal aid, a core element of access to justice, is supported by a sustainable and resilient legal aid market, where capacity meets demand. It is concerning that MoJ continues to lack an understanding of whether those eligible for legal aid can access it, particularly given available data, which suggest that access to legal aid may be worsening.”
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act came into force in April 2013 to reduce spending on legal aid.