A bid by the Law Commission to employ more lawyers has been rejected by the Lord Chancellor's Department due to cuts in public expenditure.
Pressure on public finances also means that the commission is being forced to cut its budget by 5 per cent this year, to near 1994 levels.
Secretary Michael Sayers is hopeful that the budget reduction will not affect the commission's ability to publish reports and consultative papers which often form the backbone of legislation.
“Our aim is to maintain our efficiency at all times. But a reduced budget is not ideal at a time when our work has increased,” he remarked.
Vickie Chapman, policy officer of the Legal Action Group, described the Government's action as “regrettable and petty”. And Suzanne Burn, secretary of the Law Society's civil litigation committee, said: “Given the ever-increasing workload of the commission, it is a great pity to see it deprived of resources.”
According to the commission's annual report published last week, an attempt to recruit additional staff was blocked on the grounds of insufficient resources provided by central government.
The LCD, like other government agencies, has been obliged to take a prudent view of costs.
The commission's report states that it has always had to schedule its work to take into account the financial limits on its resources.
“In 1996, there will be some reduction in its resources in line with reductions in other public expenditure. The reduction may affect its future output,” says the report.
Unveiling the 1995 annual report, the commission's chair, The Honourable Mrs Justice Arden, said it had been a record year in that 10 Law Commission reports were implemented by legislation in whole or part. The highest number previously was nine in 1971.
“This could not have been achieved without the support of the Lord Chancellor and members of both Houses of Parliament,” she said.
Justice Arden added that 13 reports or consultation documents had been issued or approved in 1995. One important paper dealt with the legal questions to be addressed in relation to people incapacitated by illness, but it avoided the subject of euthanasia.
The commission recommended that there should be new safeguards if serious medical decisions are taken on behalf of those who lack capacity, and if they are involved in non-therapeutic research.