Award yourself a toothsome teatime treat if you can name without hesitation the seven Tory lord chancellors of the last seven years*. With the average tenure at Petty France so brief, you can be forgiven for overlooking one or two.
It wasn’t always thus. The same number of people – eminent lawyers to a man (and of course they were all men) – occupied the office from the end of the second world war through to the third Thatcher administration of 1987.
Whatever the merits of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, it has not done much for continuity in the sphere of policy. Consider Michael Gove’s stint at Justice, which principally involved undoing at least some of the damage inflicted by Chris Grayling.
But never mind the history lesson. Debates about how the 2005 act reformed the office of the lord chancellor retained their currency until fairly recently, but they are otiose now.
That said, Robert Buckland’s appointment has been greeted with relief by many lawyers on the frontline. Not only is Buckland a lawyer – and a criminal lawyer to boot – he knows the territory intimately as a former solicitor-general and justice minister. As David Gauke put it: ‘Not a solicitor, merely a barrister, but this will go down well.’
The Law Society, which heralded Boris Johnson’s accession to the premiership by pleading with the new PM ‘to put the criminal justice system at the heart of the priorities of his administration’, must be content with that. Especially as Buckland has previously stressed to the Gazette that pro bono is ‘not a substitute for legal aid’.
City lawyers have reason to be cautiously optimistic too, if not about the prospects of avoiding a no-deal Brexit. Buckland has previously ruled out a levy on the big law firms to fund advice, a proposal recently revived by Lady Justice Hallett.
Two ‘known unknowns’ demand to be acknowledged, nevertheless. Will Buckland be able to wring any more money out of the Treasury for his cash-starved department (unlikely)? And will he be around long enough to make a difference anyway?
*Kenneth Clarke, Chris Grayling, Michael Gove, Liz Truss, David Lidington, David Gauke, Robert Buckland