Departmental Bulletin Paper Lawyers in UK Central Government : Key Specialists in a Generalist Bureaucratic Culture

Drewry, Gavin

65pp.25 - 46 , 2018-02 , Graduate School of Law and Politics, Osaka University
The UK civil service employs more than 2000 professionally qualified lawyers to provide legal services – including the provision of legal advice and the conduct of government litigation – to central government. Most of these lawyers work in the Government Legal Service, headed by the Treasury Solicitor, who is answerable to a government minister, the Attorney General (the government’s chief legal advisor). Lawyers, with a wide range of different responsibilities, are to be found throughout the numerous ministries and agencies of central government, and a small number (not categorised as civil servants) are also employed separately by Parliament. The civil service has a strong ‘generalist’ culture, dating back to the 19th century, that tends to relegate ‘specialists’ to a subordinate status in decision making – ‘on tap but not on top’. But although lawyer civil servants are specialists, the manifest importance of legal expertise across the whole range of government activities has given them a uniquely important role – a role that is growing in significance as the UK wrestles with the huge legal challenges of withdrawal from the European Union in the aftermath of the ‘Brexit’ referendum in 2016.

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