Budget Special: Cuts looming for legal aid

A significant future cut in legal aid is in prospect under yesterday's projections, which predict the first-ever year-on-year reduction in the scheme's 47-year history.

The figures show total net expenditure on the demand-led service increasing by 6 per cent in 1997/98, to pounds 1.56bn, and by a further 3 per cent in 1998/99, to pounds 1.60bn, but then falling back by 5 per cent in 1999/00 to pounds 1.51bn.

The Lord Chancellor's Department suggested even without legislative changes which would cap the aid budget for the first time, the savings could be achieved by the merits test being applied more strictly, standard (and invariably lower) fees for lawyers and other efficiencies.