Bar Council Calls for Action in Wake of MP Report on MoJ Finances

20 March 2012

The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, has welcomed the findings of a report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) into the financial management of the Ministry of Justice, which raises serious concerns about a number of areas of saving and expenditure.

The report, published today, confirms the Bar's concerns that the MoJ's impact assessment of its proposed changes to legal aid does not quantify the full impact of the cuts, and reports that the amount owed to the Government under confiscation orders has increased dramatically to £1.25bn, 60 per cent of which may never be recovered.

Stephen Cobb QC, Chairman of the Bar Council's working group on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, said:

"The Public Accounts Committee has today reported that the MoJ 'has not identified the behaviour changes which may arise from the new legal aid arrangements', confirming the Bar's fears that the Government has not fully examined the potential for these cuts to end up costing more than they save.

"These concerns have been echoed by many MPs, Peers and senior members of the judiciary, who have warned that the inevitable influx of self-representing litigants will clog up the courts and cause considerable delays and associated costs to the public purse. We urge the Government to consider in greater detail the likely impact of these short-sighted cuts.

"The report also emphasises the full amount outstanding in unpaid confiscation orders, which is more than triple that of the savings which the Government is seeking to make by cutting legal aid from the most vulnerable members of society.

"At the same time, despite the Bar's tireless campaign for restrained assets to be unfrozen to allow wealthy criminal defendants to pay their own legal fees, the Government continues to squander its limited funds on legal aid for these individuals, in the hope that some of the funds may be recouped later via confiscation orders. These figures must surely put beyond doubt the need to address this scandal at the earliest opportunity."

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525.

2. The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts today publishes its 75th report of this session, "Ministry of Justice Financial Management", which can be accessed here.

3. The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes:

• The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services
• Fair access to justice for all
• The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and
• The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board.