Lord Chancellor unveils court staff pay deal and review of his role

Buckland: System has long been open to abuse

The Treasury has agreed a three-year pay deal for court staff after negotiations with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the Lord Chancellor has announced.

Robert Buckland said the deal would “go beyond” the normal approach to setting Civil Service pay and help the retention of staff such as legal advisers in the magistrates’ courts, as well as attracting “new talent”.

Mr Buckland’s announcement followed an angry attack by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, on the “idiotic” way HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) trained good staff, only to lose them to government departments which paid more.

The Lord Chancellor told the same House of Lords constitution committee this morning: “HMCTS pay has not kept pace with other parts of government, which has led to a rise in attrition.”

He said that “after very careful scrutiny”, the case made by the MoJ for a pay deal had been approved by the Treasury.

“This will support the retention of people like legal advisers in the magistrates’ courts and attract new talent back into the department, or into it for the first time.”

It would allow HMCTS “more freedom to solve structural pay issues right across the department”.

Mr Buckland said the pay deal was “not a final agreement” but meant that formal negotiations on the detail underpinning it with the trade unions could start. He added that it was a “very important plank” in his approach to court staff.

Earlier in the session, the Lord Chancellor spoke about his plans to reshape the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which he said were in their early stages.

He told peers it would include the “role and status of the Lord Chancellor”, the relationship between the Lord Chancellor and the judiciary, and the way the Act was based “on the premise that we are living in a separation of powers constitution, when quite frankly we don’t”.

Mr Buckland said the way the former Labour government brought in the Act was “rushed”, with a press release issued saying the role of Lord Chancellor was being abolished, which was later withdrawn.

He said there was a danger that the role of Lord Chancellor would become “decorative and ornamental” if the government continued “down the 2005 road”, and that would be a “terrible mistake”.

Instead, the Lord Chancellor should have “real authority”, and his relationship with other branches of the profession should be “as clear as possible”.

While “a return to the status quo ante was not the right place to end up in”, the Lord Chancellor was a “lynchpin” of the constitution, whose role was a rebuke to those who believed in the “separation of powers myth”.

Mr Buckland raised the question of whether the Lord Chancellor should have to be legally qualified, a requirement abolished by Labour, without stating his view on the issue. He said the government’s proposals would be the result of careful debate.

“I’ve been accused of a ‘smash and grab’ to enhance the powers of the executive. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Mr Buckland said the consultation on constitutional changes would include the structure and name of the UK Supreme Court.

He said the most important thing for him about the name was that “UK” stayed in it and “nothing I want to do would interfere with that”.

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