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By Hugh Logue, Newswatch Editor
The chancellor George Osborne has announced in the government's spending review that the Ministry of Justice's budget will be cut by 23% from around £9.5 billion to £7 billion over four years.
The MoJ has also announced that it expects to save £350m on legal aid, details of which are expected to be released in November.
Reacting to the Legal Aid announcement, Law Society president Linda Lee said that while the figure of £350m is less than some had feared, losing this amount of money from the system will inevitably prove to be a significant blow to legal service provision and access to justice.
"It is a basic feature of a democratic society which supports the rule of law that vulnerable people, whether they are children, or have mental health or housing problems, are accused of crimes or have suffered loss, are able to have access to legal advice and representation to secure justice."
Ms Lee added: "The legal aid budget has remained static for the past six years. It is in no state to deliver yet more cash savings and it is the vulnerable who desperately need this front line service who will suffer. We will study the details of the consultation when they are available and will respond constructively. However, there can be no doubt that these cuts could cause significant damage to justice in our society."
A leaked memo last night revealed that thhe cuts to the MoJ will result in 14,000 jobs at the department being cut out of its 75,000 strong workforce. The memo, dated last Friday, says that 60% of this reduction will have to happen within the next 2 years with an estimated £230m in redundancy costs - including 15% compulsory redundancies.
In the leaked memo a senior Civil Servant said: "The front line will bear the brunt of this with an estimated reduction of 11,000."
The court service faces job losses of 2,950, of which 1,130 are expected to go as a result of closing 150 magistrates and county courts and legal aid reforms.
Further budget cuts will be dependant on ministers achieving changes to sentencing, prisons and legal aid funding. The prison service is expected to be especially badly effected with over 9,000 jobs being cut. In addition plans to build a new 1,500-capacity prison have been put on hold.
The Ministry of Justice says it expects the prison population to stabilise as a result of sentencing reforms and to be reduced by 3,000 by 2015 in England and Wales. However prisioner numbers have been rising over the last two decades, so the government will have to change sentencing policies in order to reduce the overall jail population.
The Law Officers Department, which comprises the Offices of the Attorney General and Solicitor General, will see a 24% cut to its budget.
A detailed departmental briefing this afternoon by justice secretary, Ken Clarke, explaining the specifics of the budget cuts has been cancelled. According to media reports, Downing Street's communications chief, Andy Coulson insisted on the cancellation of the detailed departmental briefing along with a briefing from the home secretary, Theresa May.
However, in a press statement, Ken Clarke said: "We need to create a justice system that punishes the guilty, reduces re-offending, protects our liberties, and helps those most in need. Over the period of this spending settlement the Ministry of Justice will be transformed into a lean, transparent, and affordable department."
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