The work of the Office of the Counsel General (OCG) falls into three broad areas: drafting subordinate legislation; advising the assembly; and representing the assembly in litigation. The OCG instructs the Treasury Solicitor in connection with most litigation, and Eversheds‘ Cardiff office in connection with a large part of the non-core advice work. Core advice concerns legislation, policy development, the scope of the assembly’s powers and politically sensitive issues.
The counsel general, as the assembly’s chief legal adviser, is primarily responsible for ensuring that its government is conducted according to law. Although an official of that government, he must act independently of its political interests. His role may sometimes be controversial, and the advice may not always be palatable. For these reasons, the effective performance of the counsel general’s role requires that the office must be protected against unreasonable political pressure.
The structure of the OCG largely reflects the assembly’s committee structure, with teams covering health and social services, economic development, industry, local government and housing, planning and the environment, education and training, and agriculture. There is also a team specialising in constitutional and drafting issues. The lawyers in the OCG include solicitors and barristers, Welsh and non-Welsh speakers, and are from a range of nationalities and backgrounds. Some are from within the Civil Service, while some have joined from private practice. The OCG is presently completing a further recruitment exercise in which another 10-12 lawyers will be taken on.
The assembly’s legislation is bilingual, with Welsh and English texts having equal status. This presents a challenge for the OCG’s lawyers, who draft legislation in close cooperation with specialist translators. Complex provisions have to be expressed in clear yet precise language to avoid difficulties in translation. Other challenges facing the OCG’s lawyers are advising the assembly’s subject committees in sessions which are televised live, and representing the assembly’s interests in dealing with UK Government departments and Brussels regarding matters which have an impact on Wales.
The type of work contracted out to Eversheds and the Treasury Solicitor is wide and varied. It includes employment, litigation, health and safety, planning and environmental, public procurement, and general commercial/contractual matters. Eversheds was selected after an open competitive tendering process and is engaged on a contract for three years starting January 2000.
Winston Roddick QC is counsel general to the Welsh National Assembly.