The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) has imposed conditions on former Lord Chancellor Sir Robert Buckland’s role as head of policy and senior counsel with London law firm Payne Hicks Beach.
The law firm announced in March this year that the MP and KC had taken up the part-time role, for which he is paid £4,000 a month for 32 hours.
Sir Robert was replaced as Lord Chancellor and justice secretary by Dominic Raab in September 2021; he also had a short spell as Welsh secretary last year, from July to October.
Under the business appointment rules, former ministers are banned from lobbying for two years after they leave office and must seek advice from ACOBA, an advisory non-departmental public body sponsored by the Cabinet Office, on any appointments or employment they wish to take up that time.
ACOBA told him that, since he “did not have any contact with” the law firm as a minister at either the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) or the Welsh Office” and “did not make any decisions that would have specifically affected” it, the risk that the job could be “reasonably considered as a reward for actions taken in office is therefore low”.
Neither department objected to his taking the role.
The committee also noted that 17 months had passed since Sir Robert last had access to information or involvement in the work of the MoJ and he was “prevented from using privileged information by a number of formal restraints”, as well as the business appointment rules.
By ‘privileged information’ the committee said it meant official information to which ministers had access, but not the public.
The restraints included the Bar code of conduct “as well as legal professional privilege and client confidentiality, alongside the rules and principles which apply to all former ministers”.
However, the committee also noted that there was “an inherent risk” that Sir Robert “could be perceived as having access to relevant privileged information and knowledge, which could unfairly benefit any organisation operating in the legal and justice sector”.
There were also inherent risks associated with his “network and potential influence within government” as a result of his time in ministerial office.
More generally, given his “role and profile”, there was “a risk it could be perceived” that his influence might help Payne Hicks Beach.
Although Sir Robert’s role would be limited to matters where there was no conflict of interest, ACOBA said there remained “potential unknown risks associated with your time in office”.
While it was not Sir Robert’s intention to lobby the government, ACOBA said the restrictions it was imposing would prevent him making use of contacts “to unfairly advantage your new employer in relation to policy, funding or contractual matters related to the UK government”.
The first condition was that Sir Robert disclose or use any privileged information available from his time in office.
The remaining conditions were imposed for two years from Sir Robert’s last day in office. These ban him from lobbying or “litigating against the government” on behalf of Payne Hicks Beach, and from making use “directly or indirectly” of government or ministerial contacts to “influence policy, secure funding/business or otherwise unfairly benefit” the law firm.
The former justice secretary should also not provide advice to the law firm “on the terms of, or with regard to the subject matter of, a bid with, or contract relating directly to the work of the UK government”.
His role with the law firm should be “limited to providing advice on matters that do not conflict” with his time in office, including not advising Payne Hicks Beach on cases “with which he was personally involved”.