On Thursday night, after what seemed to be an interminable eight full days without a Prisons and Probation Minister, the Ministry of Justice finally made two new ministerial appointments.
The previous Wednesday evening Rory Stewart MP, who promised to resign as Minister if he didn’t succeed in bringing down the levels of violence in our prisons within a year, was promoted to the Department for International Development in the wake of the Gavin Williamson sacking.
Normal practice is for the ministerial vacancies created by a reshuffle, even an unanticipated one necessitated by Mr Williamson’s allegedly breach of confidentiality, to be filled within a day or two at the most. So the rumour mills were working at full speed when no appointment was made over the weekend, or even on the Tuesday morning after the Bank Holiday. There was speculation that MPs might even be turning down the job, so difficult is the Prisons and probation ministerial responsibility thought to be.
Eventually, the MoJ announced that the Solicitor General Robert Buckland was transferring to the MoJ to take over as Prisons and Probation Minister. Oddly enough, Lucy Frazer, who has been the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State responsible for courts at the MoJ, was moved in the opposite direction to take over the post of Solicitor General. Ms Frazer was replaced by Paul Maynard.
The appointment of Robert Buckland has caused some head scratching, on the face of things his move from Solicitor General looks like a demotion; since Law Officers get paid more than common or garden ministers. This has led to speculation that the delay in making the appointment might been down to salary negotiations; at some point we will find out whether he’s managed to hang onto his existing “terms and conditions”.
Mr Buckland has a distinguished career as a barrister and member of the judiciary, he was a Recorder of the Crown Court sitting on the Midlands Circuit between 2009 and 2010. So he will certainly have a detailed understanding of the workings of the criminal justice system. Whether this will equip them for the challenges of turning round our ailing prison and probation services, we shall have to wait and see. Another tricky component of Mr Buckland’s job is responsibility for industrial relations, a real challenge when prison officers are, unsurprisingly, more than a little upset at the way they have been treated in recent years.
An announcement about the future of the probation service and any changes to the design of the Transforming Rehabilitation project which split the service into public and private sectors has been overdue for several months. Probation officers will wonder whether this latest reshuffle means further delays or whether Justice Secretary David Gauke will make an announcement in the near future, as today’s Times suggests.
What else do we know about Mr Buckland? Mr Buckland was born in Llanelli in 1968. He went to Hatfield College, Durham, graduating in Law in 1990. He attended the Inns of Court School of Law, where he was a prize winner for Advocacy and was Called to the Bar at Inner Temple in October 1991. In 1997, Robert married Sian, whom he met at university. In 2002, their twin children Millicent and George were born. They live in Wroughton. Mr Buckland’s interests include music, wine, political history and watching rugby and cricket. After three unsuccessful attempts to become an MP, Mr Buckland won South Swindon for the Conservatives in the 2010 election. He was previously Solicitor General, a post that he occupied from July 2014 until his promotion on Thursday night.
The other new appointment is Paul Maynard who, as we have seen, replaces Lucy Frazer as Under Secretary of State and is responsible for courts and Legal Aid as well as family justice. Born in 1975, Mr Maynard studied history at Oxford and worked as a management consultant before being a special adviser and speechwriter for Liam Fox. He became MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys in 2010 and was promoted to be Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department for Transport in July 2016 before becoming a Whip in January 2018. He has sat on the Work and Pensions and Transport Committees. His political interests are listed as education and social policy. He has cerebral palsy.
As usual, it’s all change at the MoJ. In fact, the longest serving member of the ministerial team is the Justice Secretary himself although David Gauke only took up the post 16 months ago in January 2018.
We shall have to wait and see how the new ministerial team performs and whether any progress on prisons and probation can be made before the summer recess – or even a general election – intervenes.