I Cannae Change the Laws of Physics

I imagine that this evening The Lord Chancellor is seething. Those pesky statisticians have gone and done it again. Their ad hoc releases of facts and figures now litter the Internet like Tribbles on the Starship Enterprise (that’s a reference to Star Trek in case you don’t know, which is a reference I get immediately but that may say more about me than it does you. Can we forget I ever mentioned Star Trek and get back to the MoJ?)

So, as I was saying before I interrupted myself with a sci-fi analogy, today has seen the publication of a Legal Aid update with some facts and figures about the Legal Aid budget. To give them their credit they did hold out until the final page and three paragraphs before the end of the document before the words “at £2 billion we have one of the most expensive Legal Aid budgets in the whole galaxy which boldly goes where no Legal Aid budget has ever gone before…..” Or something like that. But was there anything new in the document?

One thing leapt out at me. The document quotes this interesting statistic

“Since 1995/96, incidents of crime have decreased by 50%, whilst criminal legal aid spending has increased by around 10% in real terms”


On the face of it that was the first justification that I had ever seen for the idea that criminal legal aid spending was spiralling out of control. And you cannot argue with that. Well actually I can, just a little. The figures for reported “incidents” of crime are just that. Reported crime. Not prosecuted crime. Not even crime where a suspect has been identified. The clue was in the use of the word “incidents” and the fact that a little asterisk told us these figures were from “CSEW” stats. In other words the Crime Survey of England and Wales. And here is where the problem really begins. The way that crime has been analysed in the CSEW has changed greatly in that period. Comparing the figure from 1995/6 (when it was not just England and Wales but included Scotland too) to 2013 is like comparing a Romulan to a Klingon (okay I’ll stop now). And the CSEW figures have always been criticised because it is a survey of victims’ experience of crime. It does not include things like drug trafficking. Or widescale commercial fraud.

To recap – it does not indicate the number of cases passing thought the courts or the breadth of cases passing through the courts. So to compare the amount of money spent on legal aid with stats that do not in any way represent the number of cases before the court is, frankly, misleading. It is like comparing the number of people who think of going on holiday to Spain with the costs of all air travel.

Now look at the document again (you can find it here). This is a document that is largely talking about advocacy fees for the Bar. So quoting the comparative real term figure for the increase in Legal Aid has little to do with that part of the argument. The difference in “real terms” between what was spent on advocacy fees in 1995 and what was spent in 2013 would make an interesting read. Anyone want to take a bet that the spend has gone down in real terms? What with all the cuts and no cost of living increase?

I am no clever statistician. I am not even a very competent mathematician. This document is designed to help one person. A politician.

A Postscript Since I wrote this blog the clever people on the SE Circuit have done some proper work and have actually looked at the figures. Turns out my hunch was kind of right. Hats off to the SE. Time to really expose this terrible misleading information spewing out of the MoJ. Do take a look at their document by clicking here.

4 thoughts on “I Cannae Change the Laws of Physics

  1. kate mallison

    I believe that the “spend” on legal-aid in Thames Valley should be falling as the lists for the Courts are smaller than they were five years ago
    Whatever the position, I cannot understand why anyone eg this government.wants to reduce expenditure without seeing first whether savings could be made -unless of course politicians don’t want a spotlighht put on their outsourcing disasters.

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  2. Paul Booty

    Why not do something simple? Compare court list sizing for regions or areas (deals with courts that have been closed). This gives an idea as to the number of cases passing through the courts. More accurately, how many charges have been brought, or even better how many representation orders granted. Cross reference with the reduction in fees paid and you can get an average case cost. Why not just publish how much was spent on legal aid orders in the two periods that may be helpful!

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