Being under constant public scrutiny is just one of the challenges facing Metropolitan Police general counsel Edward Solomons.
The Metropolitan Police is never far from the spotlight, what with it garnering more column inches than any other public sector department.
The work its officers perform is carried out in the full glare of the public, with inquiries such as Stephen Lawrence, Princess Diana and most recently the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes top of the media agenda.
Complaints of racial discrimination from officers within the Met continue to dog the force and the very public rows between the former commissioner Sir Ian Blair and London mayor Boris Johnson means Scotland Yard is never a dull place.
All these issues and more come through the office of Edward Solomons, director of legal services at the Met, who from Scotland Yard leads 130 lawyers through the minefield of lawyering in the public eye. Solomons, who was appointed to the post in 2006 after nearly 15 years at the Treasury Solicitor’s Department, arrived well-versed in the politics of lawyering, but this is something else. Does he feel the pressure?
“Rather like other government lawyers, we have to be non-political in our work but politically aware, and conspicuously so,” says Solomons, who admits that working at the Met is like working in a “goldfish bowl”.
An armour-clad goldfish bowl would be a more accurate description, as anyone who has visited Scotland Yard can testify. Airport-style searches, officers with machine guns and boats patrolling the Thames outside – this is one of the most unusual legal offices in the country.
The department is divided into three groups: employment and corporate governance; licensing, public order and proceeds of crime; and counter-terrorism and safer neighbourhoods (Asbos, sexual offences, etc). The latter explains the need for armed guards and some of the team’s lawyers need clearance for access to issues of national security.
Work roughly breaks down into: 25 per cent malfeasance (police misconduct, false arrest) and judicial review inquests; 20 per cent employment tribunal claims; 20 per cent advisory; 15 per cent proceeds of crime, Asbos, sexual offences; and 20 per cent miscellaneous.
The Met’s legal panel, last revamped in May 2008, is handed work through MetLaw, software that allows administrative staff to automatically allocate work that includes a cap on their billing. Solomons says he wants to bring more corporate governance work in-house, meaning less work for some firms on the panel.
“This is a very large organisation with all the issues that a large organisation has – buying property, goods, IP, drawing contracts – except each of these is different because we’re the police,” he explains. “Buying property might be buying a house for a covert operation, buying goods might be Tasers. Many of these issues impact on the rights of individuals.”
Solomons’ client is the police commissioner, who has an office two minutes from his own. “Our job is to advise our client and represent them when they get into difficulty,” he says. “It’s not our job to judge, but we do have to know our client’s business.”
Contact with the commissioner is “very immediate and very varied” according to Solomons, who has worked closely with the newly appointed Sir Paul Stephenson and offers a generous opinion on past appointees to a position recently bathed in controversy.
“I find the most senior police officers intelligent, thoughtful and liberal in their approach,” he says. “They’re also extremely courteous: there’s none of this ‘in my office, now’ like in The Bill.”
With such a wide variety of work and heavy documentation for the inquests, managing the legal team’s time is a huge task, but Solomons claims it does not put his lawyers off and the department has an “extremely” low turnover.
“One of the attractive features is the variety. When the phone rings it’s always something unusual, usually urgent and not always in work hours,” explains Solomons, who also finds time to sit on the board of the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
During his two years in the post, Solomons has noted that the urgent advice “relating to operational matters” has become more frequent, perhaps a result of the Met turning up in the press on a regular basis.
“We’re living in a society that’s more aware of its legal rights. The policing of London is a legitimate issue for public scrutiny – we’re totally accountable and so we should be. I wouldn’t want to live in a society where these things weren’t in the public eye. One has to be acutely aware of the way these things
are presented. If this makes the work more difficult, it also makes it more interesting.”
Name: Edward Solomons
Position: General counsel
Organisation: Metropolitan Police Service
Reporting to: Deputy commissioner Tim Godwin
Company turnover: £3.6bn
Total number of employees: 50,000
Total legal capacity: 130
Main external law firms: Bircham Dyson Bell, DWF, Sharpe Pritchard, TLT, Weightmans
Total legal spend: £7m
1972-76: Accountancy and finance, Middlesex Polytechnic
1977-79: Articled clerk, Thompsons
1979-94: Solicitor, partner, then equity partner, Thompsons
1994-2001: Assistant, Treasury Solicitor’s Department
2001-06: Deputy Official Solicitor & Public Trustee
2001-present: Higher Rights of Audience
2006-present: Director of legal services, Metropolitan Police
2006-present: Board member, Solicitors Regulation Authority