Robert Buckland’s appointment as solicitor general is an ‘insult to lawyers’, his Labour shadow said today, after it emerged Buckland had failed to tell the prime minister that he had been found guilty of professional misconduct.
Buckland (pictured), Conservative MP for South Swindon and criminal barrister and recorder, was appointed in David Cameron’s reshuffle last week.
Papers from the Council of the Inns of Court reveal the newly appointed solicitor general had been found guilty in 2011 of one charge of professional misconduct for breaching the bar’s code of conduct.
The charge concerned an incident that took place in 2008 when Buckland was a governor at Ridgeway School, near Swindon.
Following a race attack on a pupil at the school, Buckland carried out an investigation in to the matter and sought to obtain papers in the case from the barrister representing one of the accused, despite not being entitled to see them.
Buckland was found guilty, along with Robin Shellard, the barrister from whom he had sought the papers.
The tribunal imposed no penalty on either, but ordered that each pay half of the costs of the day’s hearing in the sum of £292.50 each.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office confirmed: ‘It is a matter of public record that in May 2011, Robert Buckland was found to have committed a breach of the Code of Conduct of the Bar of England and Wales.
‘The tribunal found it to be a minor breach in that no penalty was imposed, he was not suspended or fined and continued to practice and sit as a recorder.’
Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry told the Gazette his appointment is ‘an insult to lawyers’.
She has written to the chairman of the Bar Council, Nicholas Lavender QC, asking if he considers Buckland is a ‘proper person’ to be the solicitor general.
As solicitor general, Thornberry said Buckland is an ex officio member of the Bar Council, whose mission statement she said is to ‘promote the highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession’.
She asked Lavender whether a finding of professional misconduct would disqualify an individual from becoming a member of the Bar Council and if there is any precedent for a senior member having such a finding made against them.
Thornberry enquired whether the Bar Council had been approached by Number 10 for the purposes of background checks on the new law officers.
She also asked whether a failure to declare the misconduct finding or ‘falsely claiming’ that a disciplinary conviction is spent when it is not, would constitute a ‘fresh misconduct’.
Thornberry said: ‘Both the attorney general and the solicitor general are supposed to be senior lawyers of high standing who are required to give the prime minister legal advice that he may sometimes not want to hear.
‘It makes a mockery of that position to have it occupied by someone who has been found guilty of professional misconduct and who also failed to disclose that to the prime minister.’
‘He [Buckland] thinks it’s OK. I don’t think that,’ said Thornberry. ‘The concern is that he lacks judgement. It is a big concern and of constitutional importance’.
Thornberry said Buckland has ‘a lot’ of questions to answer.
She said: ‘The prime minister himself urgently needs to set out what checks, if any, were made into the background of his law officers. Was there any due diligence carried out at all? Most importantly, does the prime minister still consider this appointment to be appropriate?’