The Constitution Society, in partnership with the Constitution Unit, is pleased to announce the launch of our new pamphlet Risk Management: Government Lawyers and the Provision of Legal Advice within Whitehall.
Written by 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 to mark the launch of the report, click here.
Government lawyers are a powerful and influential group within Whitehall, and as such they deserve greater understanding. Law and legality are now ever-present considerations in the policy and decision making process. Government cannot escape from the reach of the law – if it ever could. The result is that lawyers have become more integrated into the policy and decision making process in Whitehall because of the increasing penetration of law into government. But because law is inescapable, and its effect uncertain, lawyers talk of legal risk rather than legality and illegality. Government lawyers see themselves not as ‘guardians’ but as managers of legal risk.
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.