The Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP was sworn in as lord chancellor this morning, affirming his commitment 'as far as possible' to the principle of legal aid.
In a ceremony before the most senior members of the judiciary, Buckland promised to be 'sure-footed and steadfast' in his oath to defend judicial independence. He went on to note that today is exactly 70 years since the 1949 Legal Aid and Advice Act came into force. 'Having practised predominantly in cases involving criminal legal aid, I remain firmly of the belief that as far as possible the right support must be provided for those who need it,' Buckland said, 'particularly where actions of the state directly affect the liberty, livelihood or welfare of the individual.'
On the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, Buckland said he was encouraged by the fact that more than half of people entering the professions are women. 'That is great progress, but we still need to see more diversity, in all its forms, throughout the ranks of the professions and in the judiciary. And I will do all I can to promote this agenda in my time as lord chancellor.'
Michael Ellis QC MP was also sworn in, as solicitor general for England and Wales.
Buckland was received with warm words from the lord chief justice and senior figures in the legal profession - along with warnings about the parlous state of parts of the justice system. In his speech Law Society president Simon Davis told the lord chancellor: 'You will have seen first-hand in your career as a criminal barrister and as a Crown court recorder, and I am sure will have heard from your constituents in Swindon South, how the neglect over so many years of our criminal justice system by governments of every hue has led to the position where some of the most vulnerable in our society cannot access justice.
'Let us combine to make the case to Treasury-if that case really needs be made-that investment in our justice system is not only crucial for the rule of law but good politics and good economics.'
On a lighter note, Buckland's speech included a reference to the recent turnover of holders of his office. 'When preparing for this ceremony it was reassuring to recall that I have had some practice – after all, I have borne direct witness, when I was solicitor general, to four of my predecessors being sworn in!'