The Constitution Unit


Government Lawyers



The Unit has begun a short project examining the role of government lawyers: what do they do, and what is the nature of their influence in Whitehall? 

In determining the appropriate and legal scope of executive action, lawyers and academics have mostly concerned themselves with what the courts say and do. But there are a group of actors within the Executive who may also have a role in determining the scope and legality of government action: government lawyers. 

We wish to know:

  • What are the current institutional arrangements of the government legal service in Whitehall, and how has this changed over time? Are lawyers now more integral to policy making, with the growth of judicial review, and the Human Rights Act?
  • What is the hierarchy of legal advice in Whitehall? How are differences resolved?
  • What are the pros and cons of departments having in-house lawyers? Should No 10 and Cabinet Office have in-house lawyers?
  • To what extent do lawyers in government see themselves as different from other civil servants or lawyers in private practice? 

Nat Le Roux, Chairman of the Constitution Society, has agreed to provide funding for this scoping project. The project will run from December 2012 to May 2013, and is led by Dr Ben Yong. The key proposed outputs are a final report, and a broader research proposal (to be submitted to a research council for further funding). 



The Constitution Society, in partnership with the Constitution Unit, is pleased to announce the launch of the new pamphlet Risk Management: Government Lawyers and the Provision of Legal Advice within Whitehall.

Written by the Constitution Unit's Dr Ben Yong, the report looks into the important role that legal advice plays in the British political system. To see an interview with Dr Yong marking the launch of the report this week click here.

This short study examines the work of government lawyers in Whitehall, looking at the changes over the past thirty years in the way that legal advice has been provided. It examines the role of lawyers in the policy and decision making process, the hierarchy of legal advice and the professional norms that government lawyers adhere to. Finally, there is a case study of the role of government lawyers in the decision to use military force against Iraq in 2002-2003.