Responding to the Council of Europe report and comparisons drawn in the media between legal aid spending, Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar Council, said:
“Comparing England and Wales’ spending on legal aid with that of other countries is like comparing apples with oranges. It takes no account of the fact that there are huge differences in the way countries’ justice systems are organised and funded - in particular, what legal aid is used for. It ignores differences in population sizes, economic situations and how citizens can be supported in exercising their legal rights.
“Whereas in England and Wales, legal aid is the foundation of how the public access justice, in many other countries (as this report notes) access to justice is covered by funding other parts of their system so their legal aid budget is much more limited. That does not mean those countries aren’t spending public money on justice – quite the opposite. Often access to justice is built into people’s rights as citizens of our neighbours and covered by their courts budget. Regrettably, a bigger legal aid figure here does not mean greater access to justice for our citizens.
“A much more meaningful comparison is on overall justice spending (which includes courts, prisons, probation and legal aid) by England and Wales and other states. Our recent ‘Small Change for Justice’ report shockingly highlighted that we are actually reducing the amount we spend on justice every year, whereas all comparable European countries are increasing it. It is the lack of investment that has seen so many people struggling to get legal representation, to get their case heard in a reasonable timeframe instead of months and years later.”