Across Whitehall, government departments have been scrambling to bid for Treasury cash. Following the last Spending Review in November 2020, the March 2021 Budget set out just 12 months of spending commitments. There are now calls for additional money for the NHS, schools, local government, public sector pay and, of course, for the justice system. Improvements in the near-term outlook mean that the Chancellor could keep within the parameters for borrowing set out in the March Budget, even with a substantial increase in funding.

The courts and the Exchequer were established as permanent institutions at more or less the same time, during the reign of Henry II. His reorganisation of royal justice into permanent courts in Westminster gave birth to the common law; the law which was ‘common’ throughout the country rather than the regional or local law it replaced. It has, ever since, been a core duty of the state to control our national finances and to provide a functioning justice system.

According to data from the World Justice Report, there is a strong correlation between people’s perception that civil justice is effectively implemented and their perception that the system is not affected by external factors such as improper government influence. It is simply better to live, work and do business in a country which is free from arbitrary government, has effective methods of resolving disputes, respects personal and property rights and is intolerant of corruption. In the end, these are essentially analogues of a functioning civil justice system.

Data from the Rule of Law Index also suggests that effective and timely criminal justice systems, which ensure that the rights of suspects and victims are protected, may be a fundamental element in maintaining security and societal cohesion at the country level. The attractiveness of doing so could hardly be more obvious as we look around the world.

Yet in the last decade, England and Wales have experienced by far the largest percentage reduction in justice spending compared with other European countries. A decade of cuts, exacerbated by the brutal effects of the pandemic, mean that the courts have struggled to cope.

In our Spending Review submission, we are asking for an increase in spending. From 2010-19, there was a 29% reduction in per-person spending on justice. Investment is now needed throughout the system to ensure justice is accessible for all, particularly in the legal aid sector. To merely adjust for inflation and deliver an adequate service, the government would need to provide an extra £2.48bn of annual spending: 22 pence per-person per-day. We are continuing our calls for the government to offer substantial funding for early access to legal advice for social welfare issues and to make non-means-tested legal aid available for all domestic abuse cases.

Investment in people is also a crucial part of repairing the justice system. For too long, we have heard from those involved that they are simply burnt-out, and that they feel as if the system is only held together by their goodwill. With a record backlog of cases, we want the government to launch an urgent recruitment drive for judges, Recorders and magistrates and to improve remuneration and conditions for the judiciary and HMCTS staff. We also urge the government to implement any recommendations made by the Criminal Legal Aid Review to ensure that criminal practice is sustainable. We need an independent fee review body to make certain that fees received by legal professionals involved in publicly funded work keep pace with inflation, the evolving nature of cases and the legal market.

An emphasis on retention and fair remuneration is particularly important in addressing low fees in the Youth Court, which have led to an exodus of experienced barristers (34% of barristers registered for Youth Court work had under five years’ practice experience, compared to 19% of the Bar as a whole). We are also keen to see funding used to provide legal representation for young people at police stations. Representation should be mandatory or at least require an opt out. Specialist training on youth advocacy should be available to all lawyers working with children in the criminal justice system. Only with proper funding – and with it an emphasis on rehabilitation and education – can we ensure that the children involved go on to become engaged citizens.

The physical environment of the courts has also become a priority. Parts of the court estate are simply not fit for purpose. The £75 million each year for five years from 2015/16, allocated to modernise the court estate by HMCTS as part of its reform programme, did not account for the cost of repairing existing buildings, or the unforeseen cost of pandemic measures. With the court estate having been reduced by 32% in the last decade, we have been forced to rely on Nightingale Courts. A permanent increase is now needed: courts equipped with the facilities to hold hearings both in-person and remotely, with trained staff on hand to help with technology issues.

An essential component of the rule of law is the role of the state in providing an effective justice system. Meeting that obligation brings with it other vital social dividends central to a cohesive and fair society. The risks involved in failing to deliver on that core duty are all too apparent. The reforming zeal of a Plantagenet king was, it turns out, based upon a sound intuition.