March 2021 Budget – Statement from the Chair

The core funding budget for justice is stagnating in 2021-2022 at £8.4bn which is symptomatic of how people feel waiting for delayed trials to come on, after years of Government under-investment in criminal justice. Justice was only mentioned five times in the entire 107 page Treasury document, mostly just in reference to the departmental spending tables, such is the disregard for even attempting to address a much needed five-year planning for our beleaguered criminal justice system.

The Criminal Bar Association and the public at large expect some long-term planning and concomitant funding to be put in place for the criminal justice system to ensure that a core government duty, overlooked for several years, can be fulfilled: that a state should do its utmost to protect all its citizens from harm. That core duty cuts both ways: to keep people safe from would-be offenders in their homes, on the streets, at schools and to and from the workplace but, to ensure also that the cases of those suspected of criminal offences are dealt with within a reasonable timeframe and without any compromise as to the quality of justice upon which we all rely. For the Budget to have some lasting impact for the criminal justice system and the public at large – which it must be remembered pays for the Budget through taxes – there must be some long-term, joined up planning.

Last November’s spending review covered criminal justice funding for one year ahead for 2021-2022; the financial year starts in barely four weeks. The only exception made was a four-year package for prison construction across England and Wales worth £4billion in capital funding. Government proclaimed the biggest investment for a century but only introduced it into the back-end of the criminal justice system. There is little sense putting such eye watering sums aside for prisons over the next few years when there is only short-term funding for the middle-end, the engine room of the system, the court process and no extra funding whatsoever put aside to pay for the publicly funded lawyers whose role is fundamental to whether or not prison becomes a relevant consideration.

James Mulholland QC

CBA Chair

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