Can the Government Deliver Justice on a Budget?

Craig MacKenzie
Craig MacKenzie

Published: March 7th, 2024

7 min read

The Spring Budget was delivered by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on the 6th of March 2024 and offered little comfort regarding the criminal justice system.

Overall departmental spending is said to rise by 1%, but this is not evenly spread, with protected spending, such as on the NHS, receiving a more significant percentage share. In TV interviews, the Chancellor emphasised that protected spending was 'prioritising the public services that people care about.'

Regrettably, the Ministry of Justice is not a protected department, and whilst it is proper to note that department spending reviews for 2025 onwards have not yet taken place, current projections suggest spending at £500m lower than current projections.

The Chancellor believes that sometimes better public services can be delivered for less due to new ways of working and better efficiencies. While that may be the case, experience tells us it doesn't always work out that way. You will see below that several savings depend on the successful deployment of IT changes, even though only a few days ago, the Courts Service effectively abandoned one of its flagship IT projects.

More detailed Justice reforms specific to criminal justice include:

Reforming Communications from HM Courts & Tribunal Service: The government will modernise communications from HM Courts & Tribunal Service by bringing forward digital reforms and reducing spend on first-class posts.

Bail Information Service: The government will introduce the Bail Information Service (BIS) to all courts. This will help to remove barriers to bail and reduce the remand population held in custody. (They hope)

Growing Prison Productivity: The government is investing £16 million to increase prison workshop activity to boost employability and focus resources on rehabilitative activities.

AI Document Processing: The government will utilise artificial intelligence to reduce the need for manual scanning of paper documents by introducing intelligent document processing technology in court case administration. (Ambitious, perhaps, given their track history)

Digitising Services in Prisons: The government will invest a further £6 million of additional funding to speed up the digitisation of key prison services. (What could go wrong)

Assessing Risks, Needs and Strengths: The government will introduce a new offender risk management tool to provide more robust, data-driven decisions on whether offenders are safe to release, helping better protect the public and free probation staff capacity to focus on rehabilitative activities. (Data-driven, 'computer says no'? Would investing in well-trained, experienced staff not be better?).

Digital Jury Bundles: The government will provide the Crown Prosecution Service with £10 million in 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. (About time! But it is unclear how this will reduce the length of trials).

Many working within the Criminal Justice System will know that this level of investment is like putting a sticking plaster on the hull of the Titanic.

For many years, the system has relied on the goodwill of those dedicated people delivering Ferrari services at Fiat Panda prices. There is little to no goodwill left in the system. When will the penny drop?

How can Forbes Solicitors help?

Our private criminal defence solicitors are industry-leading and committed to delivering excellence. We offer a 'cutting edge, best in class service' and excel in representing professionals and prominent individuals. Increasingly, the department receives instructions from those who want better service and a better calibre of lawyer than is typically available on Legal Aid. Rather than settle for what the State is prepared to pay for, those who value their reputation, livelihood, and liberty more frequently appoint private criminal defence solicitors.

For further information please contact Craig MacKenzie

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