Government lawyers provide legal advice to the government and represent it in court proceedings
The government is our sole client.
Whether the government is creating new laws, buying goods and services, employing people or defending its decisions in court, it needs significant levels of legal advice on a whole range of complex issues. To carry out this work, the government needs its own lawyers who understand its’ business.
Government lawyers work as part of a wider team of policy makers and other professionals and have a unique role in helping the government deliver its’ manifesto and run public services.
Jonathan Jones is the Treasury Solicitor. Jonathan is also head of the Government Legal Department (GLD) which is the single largest provider of legal services to government. GLD has legal teams providing advisory services to nearly all the main Whitehall departments, including:
- Department for Culture Media and Sport
- HM Treasury
- Cabinet Office
- Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
- Department for Education
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- Department for Communities and Local Government
- Department for International Development
- Home Office
- Ministry of Justice
- Ministry of Defence
- Department for Work and Pensions
- Department of Health
- Department for Transport
GLD is also the main provider of civil litigation, employment and commercial services to government.
Other organisations such as the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Crown Prosecution Service, Parliamentary Counsel, and the Scottish and Northern Ireland legal teams also employ lawyers. They keep in close contact and work together with GLD, AGO and HMRC on cross-cutting issues – both legal and wider management matters.
Legal work is complex, politically sensitive and often in the public eye. It covers a wide range of public and private law matters including litigation, advisory and legislative work as well specialist areas such as commercial, European and employment law.
Parliamentary and advisory work
Governments use their lawyers’ skills to bring to life the policies announced in their manifestos. Government lawyers advise whether a policy can be introduced under existing legislation and, if so, how. If not and new primary legislation (meaning a law which is to be approved by Parliament) is required, government lawyers play an important role in helping to prepare proposals for new laws (known as bills) and take them through Parliament.
Where this is the case, government lawyers will work closely with officials, government ministers and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. They advise ministers and support them in Parliamentary debates.
Government lawyers also write secondary legislation, (for example, regulations, Statutory Instruments, Orders in Council etc), much of which will affect our communities directly. Working on primary and secondary legislation requires a logical approach and the ability to clarify complex ideas both orally and in writing.
Lawyers also need to ensure that all the legal implications of a policy have been thought through, including any that relate to the EU. It is their job to make sure that the law they are helping to prepare will withstand the scrutiny of the courts and Parliament.
A lawyer’s role in the development and implementation of new legislation is intellectually demanding - and unique. Creating legislation from scratch and being part of the process as it moves through Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament is an opportunity that cannot be provided elsewhere.
It is fascinating and challenging in equal measure.
Information regarding the government bills in which government lawyers are involved can be found on the UK Parliament website.
When you think about the scale of the activities in which the government is involved, you won’t be surprised to learn that government lawyers spend a lot of time in courts and tribunals considering all kinds of questions and controversial issues.
Litigation is the legal term used to describe the process of taking legal action. The litigation work on offer is hugely varied and frequently high profile. Lawyers can find themselves at regional employment tribunals or the Supreme Court. The government dimension adds an additional and unique perspective since the outcome of a case is not the be all and end all. The wider implication for future government policy is an additional and important consideration.
In 2015 to 2016, the Government Legal Department alone handled over 66,000 cases. The significant amount of litigation work carried out can be of a private or public law nature, involving questions of constitutional importance especially in the fields of judicial review, public interest immunity, contempt, national security and human rights.
As the government seeks to reduce the levels of public spending, the work of commercial lawyers has never been more important.
Whether they are undertaking large-scale complex public procurement or day-to-day transactional commercial matters, it is essential that government departments obtain value from all their contracts. To help them to do so, departments need commercial lawyers to provide legal advice on a wide range of matters, including public procurement law, contract law, intellectual property and state aid.
Commercial lawyers work closely with their clients (the procurement officers, contract managers, commercial directors and other in-house lawyers) to help them develop sound policies, devise robust commercial and procurement strategies and to construct resilient contractual arrangements with suppliers.
European Union (EU) law has a bearing on virtually every aspect of our work, and lawyers are closely involved in changes and developments within the EU.
The involvement in EU law embraces almost every area - from negotiating EU measures in Brussels to drafting statutory instruments to implement EU directives, and from advising on the implications of EU law for domestic policy to preparing cases which go before the European Court of Justice.
To support its lawyers in this complex and fascinating work, an extensive training programme in EU law is on offer, as well as guidance and specialist advice.
The Government Legal Department’s Employment Group, which embraces both advisory and litigation work, is now one of the largest employment law practices in the country.
Employment lawyers are required to act for departments of state and public bodies in cases brought before the Employment Tribunal, the County Court, the Employment Appeal Tribunal and beyond.
They also advise on non-contentious matters, such as employment policies and practices and compliance with new legislation and they seek to provide their clients with training and information to help prevent employment problems in the future.