Almost £3,000 is spent on every case and far more receive public funding than in many other countries, official analysis found.
Judges in Britain and Ireland are also among the best-paid in the continent, earning more than seven times the average worker’s salary.
This country’s judiciary is overwhelming male-dominated, according to a new comparison of justice systems across Europe, with only Azerbaijan having fewer women on the bench.
The report by the Council of Europe, the 47-member organisation that runs the European Court of Human Rights, found that overall British governments spend more on their justice systems than anywhere else in the continent.
The total annual budget in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, for 2010, came to Eur14.2bn, slightly ahead of Germany on Eur13.3bn. But this represented 1.9 per cent of total public spending, the same as the European average.
The median spend across Europe on legal aid – public money intended to improve access to justice – is Eur2.1 per resident. But in England and Wales it is Eur45.7 and Northern Ireland tops the table with Eur53.5.
Legal aid makes up 56 per cent of the budget for the justice system in this country, compared with just a quarter spent on courts and 17 per cent on public prosecutions.
In total 1,286 cases were granted legal aid per 100,000 residents in England and Wales, above the average of 831.
The average amount of legal aid allocated per case was Eur3,551 (£2,860), almost three times as much as the next most generous country, Ireland, which spent Eur1,351. The average across the continent was a fifth as much, Eur688 (£554).
However the figures are likely to change as the Coalition attempts to cut £350million out of the annual £2bn legal aid bill by removing it from many civil cases and wealthy litigants.
Jurisdictions in Britain have the lowest number of professional judges proportionally in Europe (3.6 per 100,000 population, compared with an average of 21.3).
But they earn some of the highest salaries of any court.
The gross salary of a more junior judge in England and Wales was Eur120,998, 3.8 times the average salary and almost three times the Eur46,056 for judges across Europe. Only those in Ireland and Switzerland were paid more.
Salaries of the highest-ranking judges in England and Wales (Eur243,190), Scotland (Eur230,147) and Ireland (Eur257,872) were again only beaten by those in Switzerland (Eur264,00) and totalled up to eight times the average worker’s wage.
The report found that 77 per cent of professional judges in England and Wales, and 79 per cent in Scotland, were men. Only Azerbaijan had a worse record for gender equality, as 91 per cent of its judges were male.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “At more than £2.1bn per year, we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world which in the current financial climate we just cannot continue to afford.
“Our reforms target legal aid at the people who need legal support the most, and on the most serious cases. This means taxpayers will know their money is really helping people, and is not fuelling unnecessary legal action. We estimate the legal aid budget will be cut by £320m in 2014/15 as a result of our reforms.”
He added: “The Senior Salaries Review Board provides recommendations on judicial salaries. There is currently a two year pay freeze from 2011 for those in the public sector earning over £21,000. This includes the judiciary.”