Fresh concerns have surfaced over the future of the family courts and the Youth Justice Board with the disclosure that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) budget will be cut by £2bn.
In a letter leaked to the Public and Commercial Services Union, Ann Beasley, the MoJ’s director general of finance, revealed the ministry’s budget will be cut from £9bn to £7bn over the next three years.
The news follows outrage from judges, lawyers and guardians over legal aid cuts which will reduce the number of law firms working with the most vulnerable children and families.
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, which represents probation officers and family court staff, predicted the biggest cuts will be to legal aid.
“About £2.3bn is spent on legal aid which is likely to be reduced by up to half,” Fletcher said. “They can’t halve probation budgets because that would increase the prison population by tens of thousands.”
The impact on the family courts, already struggling with staff shortages, delays and an over-reliance on agency staff, would most likely result in fewer expert witnesses being called and fewer good quality solicitors being instructed for the most vulnerable people, he said.
The cuts are also likely to alarm those concerned for the future of the Youth Justice Board (YJB). Along with all quangos, the board is already under review. Its future will be revealed in the government’s Green Paper, due this autumn.
Rob Allen, a former member of the YJB, said the board would be “very vulnerable to substantial cuts to its function and budget, if it exists at all after the spending review”. He added: “If the YJB is spared, it will no doubt have to make big savings and examine whether many of the roles it has accrued can continue.”
An MoJ spokesperson said the ministry had submitted proposals for savings to the Treasury. “Like other departments, we were asked to plan for savings of 25% and 40% as part of the coalition government’s deficit reduction plan. No decisions have been made.”
Details of the government’s comprehensive spending review will be announced on 20 October and will set out plans for the years 2011-12 to 2014-15.