Legal Business Blogs

Buckland becomes Justice Secretary as Johnson administration unveils Brexit-dominated team

The newly-installed British Government led by Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson will see a barrister take the role of Justice Secretary after Robert Buckland QC was appointed to replace David Gauke.

Johnson announced Buckland’s appointment on Wednesday (24 July) as part of the new Prime Minister’s sweeping cabinet shake-up that saw all but four of the senior ministers that served under his predecessor Theresa May resign or fired.

Called to the Bar in October 1991, Buckland is Britain’s fifth Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary in three years and the first barrister to take on the role since Kenneth Clarke QC left the post in 2012.

One of the few former Remain supporters in the 2016 EU referendum in a cabinet dominated by vocal Brexit advocates, Buckland practised as a barrister in Wales, most recently as a member of Apex Chambers in Cardiff, and is now a door tenant at 23 Essex Street Chambers in London.

He was elected Conservative MP for South Swindon in 2010 and became Solicitor General under David Cameron’s government in 2014. In May this year he became a junior minister in the justice department. South East Cambridgeshire MP Lucy Frazer QC has transferred from Solicitor General, a role she had taken up in May, to assume Buckland’s former junior minster brief with responsibility for prisons.

Buckland’s predecessor Gauke was the first solicitor appointed to the role as part of May’s cabinet reshuffle in January 2018 and the longest-lasting since the end of the coalition government in May 2015.

Gauke resigned from the role after Johnson won the Conservative leadership election this week, returning to the backbenches as MP for South West Hertfordshire, triggering the seventh change of the guard in the role since the Conservatives came into power in 2010.

After May sacked Michael Gove from the lead justice brief in July 2016, gaffe-prone Elizabeth Truss held the post for less than a year until June 2017. Gauke’s predecessor, David Lidington, was even more short-lived, moving to the cabinet office at the beginning of 2018.

There was also room for solicitors in Johnson’s new cabinet. Former Linklaters trainee and Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab replaced leadership contender Jeremy Hunt as Foreign Secretary. Also taking the role of First Secretary of State, the staunch Eurosceptic is now the de facto deputy prime minister. Former Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom and Sullivan & Cromwell solicitor Robert Jenrick replaced James Brokenshire as Housing Secretary.

However, with Brexit dominating the political agenda for the foreseeable future, there will be little expectation of the Ministry of Justice pushing forward much of a policy agenda. While Gauke had gone some way to rebuilding fractured relations with the profession, the ministry has been badly hit in recent years by sustained cost cutting, loss of clout in Whitehall and a string of poorly-regarded justice secretaries.