The government’s principal legal advisers could struggle to juggle Brexit demands with their day jobs, according to the Government Legal Department’s annual report.
The GLD is one of the largest legal organisations in the country, with lawyers and paralegals accounting for 1,400 of the 2,000-strong headcount.
The report states that the department’s priority will be to ensure it provides effective legal support to government in preparing for exiting the EU. This will include support for the negotiations, advice on the withdrawal agreement and the UK’s future relationship with the EU, preparing the Great Repeal Bill, and other necessary primary and secondary legislation.
The report continues: ‘At the same time we will need to deliver the full range of legal services required by government. The demands this will place on us will require even greater agility in our planning and the use of resources.’
One tool for coping with the workload is a central team for drafting statutory instruments. The ‘SI Hub’, set up in April last year, has already worked on over 200 drafting projects and completed nearly 100 statutory instruments across 14 departments, the report reveals. It states that the team’s 20 lawyers and one parliamentary counsel are working on ‘specialist guidance to support Brexit-related drafting’.
Treasury solicitor Jonathan Jones said that, overall, the department conducted around 777,000 hours of litigation work and took on 37,700 new cases in 2016/17.
Another departmental priority has been to work with Crown Commercial Service to reduce the ‘use and high cost’ of external legal service providers ‘through more effective procurement and contract/supplier management’.
Two of three new panels – general legal advice services and rail – have already been picked. Contracts for a finance and highly complex services panel will be awarded in August.
In further efforts to cut costs, the report reveals that paralegals are being used beyond the initial deployment in immigration casework. The Treasury Legal Advisers team has introduced ‘innovation champions’ to ‘identify and facilitate the development of innovative ideas’. The central administration team in the litigation practice management unit has improved the efficiency of case opening and closing processes, reducing errors, improving consistency and providing better management information.
Meanwhile, ‘showing innovation’ has been introduced as an eligibility criterion for the department’s special bonus scheme.