All governments like to blame the other lot for their problems. We have seen a few occasions so far where the government legal aid reforms have been indicated as a necessity because Labour let the current system get out of control (see here for one such example). I was interested to see this graph at Professor Alan Paterson’s Hamlyn lectures on legal aid. It gives expenditure on legal aid, adjusted to 2009 prices, from its inception. It presents an interesting picture. Before you scrutinise it in detail, let me encourage you in a thought experiment. When did legal aid spending increase most dramatically: was it under Thatcher, Major, Blair or Brown? Now, look at the graph.
In broad terms, the trend is upwards until the end of the latter part of the Blair regime, when spending started to come down significantly. If anything the rate of increase was highest under John Major and, to a lesser exent under Margaret Thatcher, than it was under Blair’s early years (although to differences look marginal to me). The last labour term saw spending coming down (which is one reason why the cuts on legal aid look, relative to most other public services, somewhat harsh – not that anyone other than lawyers and advice workers are listening to that complaint I am afraid).