Leaked letter suggests huge justice cuts in Britain

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The justice ministry for England and Wales is to slash its nine billion pound budget by two billion, according to a leaked letter which unions said was the first indicator of looming public sector cuts.

Up to 15,000 of the ministry's 80,000 staff could lose their jobs, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union added, after it released a letter to staff from the ministry's finance chief on Tuesday.

Britain's coalition government under Prime Minister David Cameron, which took office in May, has already warned government departments to prepare budget cuts of up to 25 percent as it bids to reduce a record deficit of 154.7 billion pounds (233 billion dollars, 187 billion euros).

It wants to cut this to 37 billion pounds in 2014-2015 and will outline exactly how it plans to do so in a spending review on October 20.

But umbrella group the Trades Union Congress has warned such plans will cause "real suffering" and is set to debate possible days of action at its annual conference next month.

In a letter to staff, Ann Beasley, the Ministry of Justice's director general of finance, said: "The scale of the savings we will have to make are extremely challenging and, given our current budget of around nine billion pounds, are expected to be around two billion pounds."

Indicating staff reductions are likely when the cuts come in from October, she added: "There will have to be less of us."

The PCS's general secretary Mark Serwotka said the proposed cuts were equivalent to the entire prisons budget.

"This is the first indication of the true scale of the cuts being imposed upon departments by this coalition government and it paints a devastating picture," he added, saying the civil service would "simply not be able to cope".

In response to the leak, the Ministry of Justice -- one of the largest government departments, handling courts, prisons and probation services -- said it had submitted its savings proposals to the Treasury.

"We are discussing options with Treasury and will not provide a running commentary on the process. No decisions have been made," a spokesman added.

Scotland's government has responsibility for its own justice under Britain's system of devolution.

© 2010 AFP

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