Yes, we do have a large Legal Aid bill; and so we should


It's entirely true that we have a large Legal Aid bill in this country. But it's also true that we should have a large Legal Aid bill as a result of both the way in which our legal system works and also the way that we count the bill itself. The truth being that our legal system works on a rather different basis than that or most other European countries.

Britain’s spending on legal aid dwarfs that of every other country in Europe, a report revealed yesterday.

At £2billion a year, it is 20 times the European average and more than seven times the amount spent by France or Germany.

The Government is pushing through controversial reforms to cut the bloated legal aid budget but the report, by the Council of Europe, warns that this could breach criminals’ human rights.

We do not suggest that there isn't a gravy train for the lawyers in there. Any and every system of public subsidy is subject to the usual capture by the insiders. However, just shouting that Johnny Foreigner pays less so therefore we should too doesn't quite work.

For our legal system is an adversarial one: the State, in criminal trials, uses all the resources it can muster to prove the case against the citizen. It is up to the citizen to produce their defence and it does seem fair enough that the Staten itself (or rather, us other taxpayers) should help those without the resources to mount a defence.

Most other criminal justice systems work on a rather different basis. The court is, rather than being so nakedly adversarial, more the instrument of investigation. So called "investigating magistrates" do not limit themselves to deciding upon the evidence that they are presented with: they actively go and seek out as much information about the case that they can. And they have substantial budgets to do this too.

It is this that leads to our having that, and justly and rightly having that, higher Legal Aid bill. It's not so much that defence in a criminal trial costs more in our system: it's that those costs are differently apportioned. Far more of them, in our system, turn up on the specific citizen's account for his defence rather than in the general running costs of the courts as a whole.

Our outsized Legal Aid bill is thus, at least in part, simply a product of our system of justice. And as we rather like that adversarial system, where it is up to the State to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, its claims, then that Legal Aid bill is something that we'll just have to suck up.

As above there's still room for featherbedding and gravy trains but there really is a structural reason why our bill looks so high in comparison with the court and judicial systems of other countries.