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Government lawyers pick up the Bills

Significant day for government lawyers as Queen's Speech sets out the political and legislative agenda for the year ahead

The Queen announced the creation of 21 new Bills during her speech on 18 May 2016. The Queen’s Speech marks an important time for many as it set the political and legislative agenda for the year ahead, but it is an even more significant day for many government lawyers.

The moment that the Queen announces that a Bill will be laid in Parliament is an exciting moment for lawyers, who will have spent weeks or months preparing it.

Victoria Salter, a senior pensions lawyer, reflected on her experiences of taking a new Bill through Parliament:

The preparation of a Bill is a truly unique experience; you are able to see how the law is developed from a policy idea to a written clause in a Bill and being involved in instructing the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.

After answering key legal questions about the policy and several rounds of instructions to Parliamentary Counsel, it is immensely satisfying seeing the clauses you’ve worked on appear in the first draft of the Bill and debated in Parliament.

Following this year’s Queen’s Speech, the Legal Advisers at the Department for Work and Pensions (part of the Government Legal Department (GLD)) are building on previous pension reforms to ensure that savings are protected by proportionate, effective regulation and people have access to public guidance on pensions.

Victoria said:

I am really excited to be working on another Bill. It is a great opportunity to work as part of a team with other GLD lawyers, operational and policy colleagues, economists, key stakeholders and Parliamentary Counsel in order to deliver something as important as primary legislation.

It is a real privilege to go to work knowing that you are contributing to something that will have real meaning in day to day life.

Another significant Bill in the Speech was the Modern Transport Bill, which aims to ensure we are at the forefront of technology for new forms of transport, including autonomous vehicles. Not only does it include many technological innovations, it also has a huge social impact, affecting every person in Great Britain.

Ruth Baillie, Department for Transport Legal Advisers (also part of GLD), explains some of the unique legal challenges to making driverless cars a reality on Britain’s roads:

The introduction of vehicles that can drive themselves for some or all of the journey without human intervention raises issues about how motor vehicle insurance and liability is handled.

Our current insurance and liability systems are built around driver negligence but where a self-driving vehicle is involved in a collision it would be a question of product liability not driver fault. We need to adapt our compulsory insurance rules so that autonomous vehicles will be required to have insurance that covers product liability. We are also looking at how the claims process will work in autonomous vehicle cases to try to ensure that, as far as possible, it will be no more complicated for a victim to bring a claim.

It’s not going to be without its challenges, but one of the most unique and satisfying things about working at the Government Legal Department is having the opportunity to create the law and not just apply it.