Sir Richard Heaton, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, will leave the civil service this summer, he has confirmed.
Heaton will step down from the MoJ top job at the end of his five-year term this summer, the department announced this morning.
His departure will bring to an end Heaton’s nearly 30-year career as a civil servant, including eight years as a permanent secretary. As Cabinet Office perm sec from 2012 to 2015, Heaton was also first parliamentary counsel.
Heaton joined the Home Office as a legal adviser in 1991 after working as a barrister. He has worked on legal teams in several departments, focusing on criminal law, the constitution, and human rights law.
His previous roles include director of legal services at the MoJ’s predecessor ministry, the Department for Constitutional Affairs; head of law and governance at the Department for Work and Pensions; and DWP’s director general for pensions and ageing society.
As head of the MoJ, Heaton has overseen work to improve prison safety and security, including the ministry’s takeover of HMP Birmingham from the contractor G4S in 2018; efforts to modernise courts and tribunals; and the ongoing work to renationalise probation management.
In the last few months he helped to devise a coronavirus strategy that the MoJ said “prevented widespread prison outbreaks” of the disease.
Heaton has also been the Civil Service Race Champion since 2014, for which cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill said he deserved “particular tribute”.
“I’m confident the whole civil service echoes my gratitude to him for his work to advance the wider equality agenda,” Sedwill added.
The cab sec said: “Richard has earned the country’s appreciation for his three decades of dedicated public service and I would also like to thank him for his friendship and support as a colleague. He leaves the department in good shape for the challenges ahead."
Justice secretary Robert Buckland said Heaton had been an “exceptional civil servant, with the strongest of reputations across government and the legal sector”.
“He has carried out many roles in government with distinction; I am personally grateful to him for welcoming me into the department as minister of state and then Lord Chancellor and secretary of state, for helping me deliver the government’s priorities, and also for steering the department through Covid,” he said.
Arrangements to appoint Heaton’s successor as perm sec will be announced “in due course”, the MoJ said.
'These have been challenging years'
Heaton said it had been a “privilege to lead” the MoJ.
“These have been challenging years, particularly during the present pandemic. But throughout, we have been able to deliver on the priorities of successive governments,” he said.
“I’m pleased with our recent record of securing investment in the fabric of our justice system. We have steered the probation service towards a stable and positive future. We have helped our prisons emerge from a difficult period, and we have carefully mitigated the potential impact of Covid-19 on our services and on the men, women and children in our care.
"But what I am most proud of is the way in which people from every part of the department and its partner organisations work together to get things done. Our values in the Ministry of Justice shape us, and our brilliant hard-working people do their very best to live by them and to serve ministers and the public."