Former Lord Chancellor Sir Robert Buckland KC has defended his decision to take on a £4,000-a-month role with a law firm, as one of his junior ministers was promoted to the post.
Alex Chalk, a one-time criminal barrister, justice minister under Sir Robert and Solicitor-General, was appointed Lord Chancellor and justice secretary on Friday following Dominic Raab’s resignation.
London law firm Payne Hicks Beach announced last month that Sir Robert had joined as head of policy and senior counsel.
Sir Robert, a former criminal law barrister too, said at the time: “I am thrilled to be able to return in part to the work of a lawyer.
“Alongside my central work as a serving MP to my constituents in South Swindon, this consultancy role at such a reputable firm such as Payne Hicks Beach allows me to balance my life between the work I am honoured to do in public office and the career I trained in as a barrister.”
The register of MPs’ interests reveals that Sir Robert is being paid £4,000 for working 32 hours each month – essentially £1,000 a day. As of last December, he also joined Foundry Chambers in London but has yet to register any fees received.
Speaking last week to his local newspaper, the Swindon Advertiser, Sir Robert rejected criticisms of him taking a ‘second job’.
He said: “I think if I was a doctor and working in a hospital to keep my skills up and my qualification valid, and hold on to my qualification, nobody would have a second thought.
“And what nobody mentions in all of this is that the biggest second job that I’ve had since being an MP was being a minister. When I was Solicitor General or was Secretary of State for Justice, they were really busy and important jobs, and they took up a lot of time.
“But I continued to do my constituency work all thorough the times I had those jobs, and nobody batted an eyelid and said I wasn’t doing what I should be doing. It seems strange that nobody has any issue with me doing those jobs but has a problem with me working as a lawyer.”
Sir Robert argued it was “important” to bring his training and professional experience to his work: “I don’t think we want MPs who have been nothing but professional politicians.”
He added that it helped to have lawyers involved in making laws: “As a barrister I’m able to see if a piece of legislation has a loophole that might be used in unintended ways, I’ve got the experience to see how a law might be used.”
Earlier this month, Sir Robert was also named as the head of an independent review for the government into autism and employment.
His contract with Payne Hicks Beach could be seen as relatively modest compared to some other MPs. One of his predecessors at Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, receives £100,000 a year for a similar weekly commitment – seven hours – as strategic adviser to Hutchison Ports Europe.
Sir Bob Neill, the Conservative chair of the justice select committee and a non-practising barrister, is paid £3,000 a month for six hours as a non-executive director of Canadian investment company GreenBank Capital.
Mr Chalk practised for 14 years, specialising in counter-terrorism, homicide and serious fraud cases, before his election in Cheltenham at the 2015 election.
He became a junior justice minister in February 2020, and appointed prisons and probation minister just over a year later, before becoming Solicitor General in September 2021. In October 2022, he was appointed a defence minister.
His appointment has been welcomed by the profession given his background – especially in light of the widespread criticism of his predecessor’s approach to legal aid in particular – and he is a known supporter of early legal advice.