The Chancellor of the Exchequer promised a radical shake-up of the criminal courts to make them ‘fit for the modern age’.
In his Spending Review, George Osborne pledged £700m for a long-awaited IT upgrade for the criminal courts.
The cash will be made available through a programme of court closures, increasing the number of hearings dealt with through video links and scrapping the need for many pre-trial hearings, which will be dealt with electronically.
Osborne told the House of Commons: ‘The Lord Chancellor has worked with the Lord Chief Justice and others to put forward a typically bold and radical plan to transform our courts so they are fit for the modern age.’
The reforms will be welcomed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who warned earlier this year that reform was ‘essential’, stating: ‘There is no way in which the present system can continue.’
Osborne also announced that the Ministry of Justice’s budget will fall over the next five years from £6.2bn to £5.6bn, a drop of 15% in real terms.
The law officers’ department, which includes the Crown Prosecution Service, will suffer a budget cut of 2.1%, far less than the 25% expected.
Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC, said that £4.4 million had been ring-fenced for the CPS counter-terrorism unit, recognising ‘the essential role played by prosecutors in keeping the country safe’.
He added: ‘Our settlement protects core services while still making savings for the taxpayer. The CPS and SFO have made significant savings while both protecting frontline teams and improving performance and I’m confident our prosecutors are properly resourced to bring offenders to account.’
Justice Secretary Michael Gove said: ‘This spending review allows us to create a one-nation justice system which better serves the public. It provides the funding we need to reform the courts, so they provide swift and certain justice’.
Former Bar Council Chairman Alistair MacDonald QC said: ‘Investment to modernise courts and tribunals is vital to the successful reform of our criminal justice system and today’s Ministry of Justice settlement safeguards the £700 million announced earlier this year.
‘Proposed overall resource savings of 15% and a 50% cut in the department’s administrative budget are obviously a big concern. Whatever plans have been made to implement these cuts, we urge the Government to ensure that access to justice, particularly for the most vulnerable, is not further restricted.’