Questions to the Counsel General and Brexit Minister (in respect of his law officer responsibilities) : The Welsh Government's Legal Services Department (2/4/19)

Janet:

Will the Counsel General make a statement on the work of the Welsh Government's legal services department?

 

Jeremy Miles AM:

The legal services department is responsible for the delivery of all legal services to the Welsh Government, including advice on complex matters of public law, employment law and commercial law, the drafting of instructions to the Office of Legislative Counsel to draft primary legislation, the preparation of all Welsh Government subordinate legislation, and the handling of high-profile litigation.

 

Janet:

Thank you. Of course, the Welsh Government is fortunate to be able to turn to a team of legal advisers on varying matters. But I was quite surprised, through the results of an FOI recently, to find that external lawyers conducting work for Ministers have been instructing counsel at rather an astronomical cost to taxpayers. For example, I found out that, during the last three financial years, almost £1.5 million has been spent by the Welsh Government on barristers. Also I'm aware that this is the minimum figure given for the spend, as expenditure on some instructions are not recorded. Now, whilst I appreciate that details of any instructions are protected by legal professional privilege, would you explain what actions you are taking to ensure that each instruction is considered essential, and that some transparency is introduced to the procurement of legal advice to the Welsh Government, so that a fully costed audit trail is evident?

 

Jeremy Miles AM:

I thank the Member for that question. The judgment on when to instruct counsel is obviously very carefully taken on a case by case basis. Counsel is instructed, for example, in relation to matters where advocacy is required in higher courts, or where legal advice is required on matters that are particularly complex or which raise novel points of law that perhaps may not have been addressed by Welsh Government lawyers in the past. What I would say to the Member is that there is a significant, a vast, amount of expertise within the Welsh Government in relation to a number of the areas that are outlined in my initial question to her, and that, as a result of that, we send out fewer instructions to counsel than we might otherwise do. And I often hear barristers in practice in Wales saying to me that they wish that we would externalise or send out more work than perhaps we do. But these judgments are careful judgments to balance value for money on one hand with the need for expertise and the level of advocacy required in some of the higher courts on the other hand. This is an area that I keep under review consistently, in relation both to the instruction of barristers and solicitors, and I do so with those two critical principles in mind.