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 and legal trainees who understand its business.
Government lawyers work closely with ministers, policy makers and other professionals and have a unique role in helping the government deliver its manifesto and run public services.
The head of the government legal profession (civil advisory and litigation) is the Treasury Solicitor, Jonathan Jones.
Jonathan is also the Permanent Secretary 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:
- Cabinet Office
- Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
- Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
- Department for Education
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- Department for Exiting the European Union
- Department of Health and Social Care
- Department for International Development
- Department for International Trade
- Department for Transport
- Department for Work and Pensions
- HM Treasury
- Home Office
- Ministry of Defence
- Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
- Ministry of Justice
GLD is also the main provider of civil litigation, employment and commercial law services to government.
The government legal profession also includes legal teams employed in, for example, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).
Other organisations such as the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Crown Prosecution Service, Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, HM Courts & Tribunals Service and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also employ lawyers.
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 and employment.
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. 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.
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.
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.