10 August 2009 | By Kit Chellel
HM Revenue & Customs general counsel Anthony Inglese is a government lawyer through and through.
As you enter the impressive headquarters of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), it is clear that this is no ordinary place to work.
The vast neoclassical building, within a stone’s throw of the Houses of Parliament, is fronted with stone pillars and Romanesque statues, as befits a key centre of government.
Once inside, it takes several minutes to negotiate a seemingly endless maze of corridors, home to civil servants from both HMRC and HM Treasury.
The Lawyer finally finds Anthony Inglese, general counsel and top lawyer at HMRC, sitting next to a whiteboard in a nondescript office.
With 250 lawyers, Inglese heads the second-biggest legal department in Whitehall. The largest is the Treasury Solicitor’s Department, which occupies the same building at 100 Parliament Street.
Inglese has worked for the Government for his entire career, and has been rewarded with a front-row seat for the events that have shaped the UK’s political landscape.
The Spycatcher trial, gays in the military and the collapse of MG Rover - Inglese was there behind the scenes, advising ministers and permanent secretaries on the Government’s options within the law.
But do not ask him for his opinion on any of the above. As a civil servant, Inglese’s role is to serve the Government without political bias. Ask him what he thinks about his role in any of the major cases he has worked on and you are likely to get the same deadpan response. “As civil servants we provide impartial, objective and frank advice,” he says.
However, the veteran lawyer does admit to getting a thrill from reading about his work in the national press.
“It’s exactly why I wanted to join government,” he admits.
Inglese began his career in 1975 as a trainee barrister for the Home Office, before qualifying and moving to the office of the Attorney General in 1986. There he was part of a dedicated team helping the Government prevent the publication of Spycatcher, a book that contained explosive revelations about the activities of the British secret service.
“There were two of us in the team at the Attorney General’s office. I was the junior partner,” Inglese recalls.
It is fair to say that this assignment met with somewhat limited success - the book was never published in most of the UK, but was available in Scotland and Australia, and the Government was widely criticised for its handling of the affair.
Following this, Inglese returned to the Home Office for two years before starting his first managerial role as the Office of Fair Trading’s legal head.
It was, by his own admission, quite a change from his experiences so far. But public sector lawyers are expected to be generalists and nowhere more so than in central government.
“That’s the craft of the government lawyer,” reveals Inglese. “You don’t stay in the same area and specialise ever more deeply. You move around, broadening and deepening your knowledge of the essential bits of law you need as a government solicitor.”
More variety followed - Inglese was top lawyer at the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
It was while working as head of the DTI’s legal arm between 2003 and 2008 that Inglese advised the Government on the collapse of MG Rover. The ramifications of this seismic event are still being felt and there are now calls for the Government to publish the results of an inquiry into the failure of the car manufacturer.
Inglese is tight-lipped about his role, but says it was “extremely heady” work that took up most of his time over several months.
He landed his present role at HMRC in March 2008 and says it was a job he had always wanted.
“This was a place I had wanted to come to because it’s a merger of two very big departments - revenue and customs,” he says. “It’s a huge change process that’s still going on, to get the two departments together.”
Much of the work of HMRC lawyers - and the reason it is the second-biggest legal team in government - is to help find and prosecute those who do not pay their taxes.
During the 2008-09 financial year, the prosecutions office collected £21.89bn in criminal assets and confiscation orders worth more than £69bn. The department also advises HMRC officials on setting tax law.
The largest cases often require the use of external law firms and barristers. HMRC spends around £20m a year on outside counsel.
Like most government departments, HMRC prefers to use the Catalist panel, although it does tender for individual cases when needed. Howes Percival, for example, is not on Catalist, but has been instructed to help with MTIC cases, a specific type of VAT fraud that costs the Government billions every year.
For Inglese, there are still challenges. He has made it a policy to say ‘yes’ whenever he is offered opportunities by his employers, no matter what reservations he might have.
Within HMRC he has just been made champion for religion and beliefs, a new role designed to represent all belief systems within the organisation.
“I’ve never done anything like that before,” says Inglese. “That’s one of the great things about this job. There’s always something new.”
Organisation: HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)
General counsel: Anthony Inglese
Reporting to: Permanent secretary and chief executive Lesley Strathie
Anthony Inglese’s CV
1975-86: Trainee barrister/barrister, Home Office
1986-89: Solicitor, Attorney General’s Office
1989-91: Solicitor, Home Office
1991-95: Head of legal, Office of Fair Trading
1995-97: Legal adviser to the Ministry of Defence
1997-2002: Deputy treasury solicitor, Treasury Solicitor’s Department
2002-08: Head of legal, Department of Trade & Industry
2008-present: General counsel, HMRC