'Justice is beyond price': sacked justice secretary tells PM to invest in legal system after 'years of underfunding'

"As a government we should always be prepared to invest in it," says Robert Buckland
Former justice secretary Robert Buckland at a visit to Leeds prison in 2019 with PM Boris Johnson. Photo: Jon Super/Pool via REUTERS/Alamy

Sacked former justice secretary Robert Buckland has urged Boris Johnson to address “years of underfunding” in the justice system.

In a resignation letter to the PM, Buckland, who was demoted to the backbenches in yesterday's cabinet reshuffle after two years in the job, praised civil servants in the Ministry of Justice but said the department is sorely in need of extra cash.

“Our legal system needs investment and I am glad that under my tenure, the MoJ budget has increased substantially,” he wrote.

“There remains, however, important work to be done in helping our system recover from this unprecedented shock [of the Covid pandemic], and years of underfunding beforehand have not helped. Justice is beyond price, and as a government we should always be prepared to invest in it.”

In 2016, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee said budget cuts had led to huge court case backlogs and meant that on some sitting days, there were not even enough judges to hear cases. They said the MoJ had “exhausted the scope to cut costs without pushing the system beyond breaking point”.

In 2019, then-MoJ permanent secretary Sir Richard Heaton said the ministry's financial situation had improved but remained "challenging"

And this summer, the National Audit Office warned the pressure to manage the challenges of the pandemic would “increase demands on an already stretched criminal justice system”.

Buckland said he was sorry to be leaving government as it had been the "honour of a lifetime" to serve as a minister for seven years: first as solicitor general, then as prisons minister, then lord chancellor and justice secretary.

He said at the MoJ, "I always saw my first priority as keeping the country safe."

In a rundown of his achievements at the ministry, he said overseeing the reunification of the probation service – which reversed the disastrous Transforming Probation reforms that began in 2012 and renationalised services for low-risk offenders that had been outsourced – had been an "important reform to keep the public safe".

He said his time as lord chancellor, which made him responsible for the efficient functioning and independence of the courts, had been "particularly challenging" because of the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic, but said he was "deeply proud of the work I did to keep our prisons running".

"I want to thank everyone in the Ministry of Justice, especially our hidden heroes and crime fighters, for their hard work," he said.

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