Robert Buckland left office as Lord Chancellor with a plea to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to invest in the justice system.
Mr Buckland was unceremoniously sacked in yesterday’s reshuffle, to be replaced for Dominic Raab, who becomes only the second solicitor Lord Chancellor after David Gauke.
In his resignation letter – which said Mr Johnson had asked him to resign – Mr Buckland highlighted his work in ending the early release of terrorists and keeping “the most serious violent and sexual offenders” in prison for longer.
He reflected too on reform of the probation service and work to put victims at the heart of the justice system, as well as keeping the prisons running during Covid and becoming one of the first countries in the world to restart jury trials after the pandemic hit.
“Our legal system needs investment and I am glad that under my tenure, the MOJ [Ministry of Justice] budget has increased substantially,” he wrote.
“There remains, however, important work to be done in helping our system recover from this unprecedented shock, and years of underfunding beforehand have not helped.
“Justice is beyond price, and as a government we should always be prepared to invest in it.”
Mr Buckland added that he had taken his oath to protect the rule of law and independence of the judiciary “very seriously”.
After studying law at Oxford and international law at Cambridge, Mr Raab worked as an international lawyer at City giant Linklaters.
He was seconded to Liberty and advised on human rights test cases in the UK and at the European Court of Human Rights.
In 2000, he joined the Foreign & Commonwealth Office as a legal adviser, leaving in 2006. He was elected in 2010.
Bar Council chair Derek Sweeting QC paid tribute to Mr Buckland’s “willingness, as a former practising barrister, to work collaboratively and listen to the legal professions”.
He added: “As we welcome the eighth justice secretary in the last 10 years to play this vital role, the need for a consistent and strong voice in government for our justice system could not be greater.”
Professor Chris Bones, the chair of CILEX, said: “As a matter of urgency, we are keen to see changes that address the need to modernise the justice system and legal services in our country and improve diversity across the legal profession, as well as reducing the costs to the delivery of legal services.”
Law Society president I Stephanie Boyce thanked Mr Buckland, continuing: “With the rule of law and access to justice firmly in the spotlight, and with the spending review on the horizon, we hope the new Lord Chancellor will play a key role in advocating for sustained investment across the entire justice system.”
In his final actions in the post, Mr Buckland warned private prosecutors that “special measures” might be needed to promote openness and compliance with disclosure obligations in the wake of the Post Office scandal.
Addressing peers on the House of Lords justice and home affairs committee in the hours before his sacking, he said the MoJ was going ahead with plans to create a register of private prosecutions and cap the costs recoverable from central funds by organisations that bring private prosecutions.
The Court of Appeal ruled in April this year that 39 former sub-postmasters were wrongly convicted of stealing money from the Post Office on the basis of data from the flawed Horizon computer system.
Mr Buckland said: “In the light of the Post Office scenario, we are still considering whether there is any further action we could take to prevent that sort of miscarriage of justice from happening again.”
He said the prosecutions had “a number of features” which might justify “special measures” to promote openness, transparency and disclosure obligations.
“The thread running through all these cases is, I’m afraid, disclosure and the inability of prosecutorial authorities and individuals to know what they’re doing when it comes to the disclosure of criminal material in proceedings.
“It’s been a bugbear of mine for many years. I’m in a position to do something about it. We’re making some progress.”
Mr Buckland was responding to a question from Lady Hallett, the retired Court of Appeal judge and crossbench peer, who said that, along with the Post Office, she was concerned that planning authorities brought “financially motivated” prosecutions “without due consideration”.
Mr Buckland replied that the right to bring a private prosecution was “an ancient one, which we should tamper with very carefully”. In terms of government departments, he said the “line of travel” was towards the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) having responsibility.
He went on: “Any prosecution must be in adherence to the highest possible standards, bearing in mind the consequences for the accused person that can arise and we saw that with the Post Office Horizon cases.”
Lady Hallett said later in the session that she was “delighted” that the Treasury had given the MoJ more money, but justice had suffered from “decades of underfunding” and the MoJ “could not survive with any further cuts and on the contrary it needs substantial additional funding”.
Mr Buckland replied that the department was “on the cusp of a very serious spending review. That process has just begun”.
He said that it was tempting after a few years of running one of Whitehall’s biggest departments, with nearly 80,000 members of staff, to view the MoJ as a “desiccated series of processes”.
He went on: “It is not. Underpinning the MoJ is a set of values that goes to the heart of what it is to be a civilised society.
“We’re about justice, we’re about the rule of law, we’re about fairness, we’re about equality under the law. We’re about all the things which differentiate a society like the United Kingdom and the jurisdictions within in from other societies like, sadly, the one we’ve just been talking about [Afghanistan].
“Therefore I view that responsibility as a hugely important one. I’m privileged to have brought quite a few years of professional and practical experience into it, and as long as I’m at the helm, those values will be reflected in everything that we do.”