The Association of Consumer Support Organisation's (ACSO) submission to HM Treasury's Spending Review 2021 makes two related points.
First, and as has been clear for some time, the Ministry of Justice faced some of the sharpest cuts to its budget over the last decade and this has had a significant negative impact. Even after a slight uptick in recent years, per person spending on justice is still almost a third lower in real terms than it was in 2010.
Although the demands on the public finances are many and varied, justice spending genuinely occupies a unique position. An effective justice system - both civil and criminal - is a fundamental building block of our society. Without it, individual consumers, businesses of all sizes and our institutions suffer.
Therefore ACSO has called for justice spending to be returned, in real terms, to 2010 levels as a starting point.
But many observers will note when it comes to any area of public spending, an increase in funds without significant reform may not have the desired impact.
In the particular case of civil justice, court waiting times have rocketed since the start of the Covid pandemic and look set to increase still further. Tackling the backlog and bringing down average wait times isn't just about more financial and human resource. It will require new ways of thinking and of working, especially the adoption of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in all its forms.
Consumers need to have more choices made available to them, and to be given the chance to understand what their different options may mean for them and those around them. This is a role for all of those involved in the civil justice system, but the government has a particular duty here.
The justice system must not be a Cinderella service. Just like our National Health Service, it is essential it operates effectively when people need it most, and especially for the most vulnerable people. If that means new sources of funding, they should be made available. And where it needs new ways of thinking, ACSO, its members and partners look forward to helping provide them.