The Ministry of Defence (MoD) increased its spend on external lawyers to £10m in 2012/13 from £3m a year earlier, despite its number of in-house legal staff climbing up to 230.
Figures disclosed to The Lawyer by the MoD show that external legal spend fell by 66.6 per cent from a previous high of £6m in 2009/10 to £2m in 2010/11 before rapidly escalating again by a whopping 400 per cent over the next two years to £10m in 2012/13.
The figures, obtained following a Freedom of Information request, also reveal that total legal spend for the government department rose 12 per cent, from £25m to £28m, during the last year.
That includes expenditure with the Treasury Solicitor’s Department, counsel and commercial legal work, as well as transactional property work for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation. It does not, however, include any external legal work commissioned by the single service legal branches or by the Service Prosecuting Authority, or miscellaneous expenditure such as the use of external patent attorneys or advice sought in foreign jurisdictions.
As well as a panel of external legal advisers, a roster which is up for review, the MoD also has 270 legal staff, of whom 190 were service lawyers. These figures do not include legal secretaries.
An MoD spokeswoman insisted that the legal costs represent around 0.1 per cent of its budget, adding that this makes its legal spend one of the lowest in Whitehall.
She said: “As with any large organisation, the MoD needs to ensure it is operating in line with relevant legal obligations as well as defend itself from legal challenge.
”This is particularly true when dealing with the huge variety of complex issues the department’s work is involved in. Like other areas of expenditure, we keep what we spend under active review.”
The MoD has faced a number of compensation claims over the years, allegedly handing over £42,000 to a poultry farmer in 2010 over claims his hens laid fewer eggs because they were disturbed by the Red Arrows display team.
On Friday (2 May), the High Court ruled that the detention policy adopted by UK forces in Afghanistan was unlawful, a ruling which leaves the MoD open to substantial compensation claims.
The MoD’s legal roster is reviewed every four years, with the most recent review announced in 2010. The panel understood to be under review again, although an MoD spokesperson would not provide further comment.
Simmons & Simmons is one of the MoD’s longest standing legal advisers, despite being dropped from its panel in 2006 (20 January 2006).
The firm was reappointed in 2010, after it had continued to advise on contract bids that started before its dismissal, including a £13bn fleet deal with the AirTanker consortium in March 28 March 2008) and a £16bn training programme announced at the beginning of 2007 (29 January 2007).