National treasure

The Treasury Solicitor’s Department may be short of lawyers and snowed under with work but, as Brendan Malkin discovers, it is still managing to keep its standards up

Anthony Inglese, deputy Treasury solicitor, does not do as much lawyering as he would like. But, with society becoming ever more litigious, New Labour’s fascination with using lawyers and with ever-bigger cases on the boil, his services as a lawyer would no doubt be appreciated.

This year alone around 3,000 immigration cases from the Home Office have been handed to him, which means that there are more than 10 times more immigration cases than there are lawyers in the department.

“We’ve always done immigration cases, but we’re getting more of them every year, and this year we’re at record level,” says Inglese.

Not surprisingly, the Home Office is the Treasury Solicitor’s Department’s biggest client, bringing in a plentiful number of prison cases of the likes of Myra Hindley and Pinochet. There are also a lot of sensitive cases with political angles. For example, should asylum seekers be sent back to a midway country such as Germany, or will such a move place their safety at risk? Currently, the department’s lawyers are also getting their heads around the Stansted hijacking by Afghan rebels.

While the Home Office may be the greatest source of work, it is only a small section of the department’s overall workload. The Treasury Solicitor’s litigation department is the largest in the UK and it represents all departments except Customs & Excise, the Inland Revenue, the Department of Health, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department for Work and Pensions, all of which handle their own legal work.

Besides the Home Office, the Treasury Solicitor’s Department represents: the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI); the Treasury; the Cabinet Office; the Foreign Office; the Department for Transport Local Government and the Regions (DTLGR); the Ministry of Defence (MoD); the Department for Education and Skills; the Department for Culture Media and Sport; the Lord Chancellor’s Department; and the Department for International Development.

Of these, the Treasury Solicitor’s Department appears to receive the least work from the Foreign Office. Inglese peers at a very recent list of cases and finds none relating to the Foreign Office. The Chagos Islands case is the biggest from that department of recent times.

MoD work, on the other hand, keeps the lawyers busy. Among the “glossiest”, says Inglese, are two group actions of around 350 claims for post-traumatic stress disorder, brought by soldiers who served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and the Gulf, and the claims arising out of Gulf War Syndrome.

The DTLGR also kept the department busy with the Alconbury case and Human rights generally is a big provider. Current large-scale DTI legal work includes the judicial reviews of the mobile phone auctions, and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), which has been increasingly busy, has handed the department its work on the resale price of over-the-counter medications.

However, although it is often stretched and frequently seeking new recruits, it is a mark of the department’s success that it still manages to attract many cases, despite having to compete for work. The big Government departments could go elsewhere, but they choose not to, although presumably the Treasury Solicitor is a cheaper option than magic circle firms.

But this means that lawyers have to be able to handle a considerable variety of work, which necessitates a lot of movement between practice areas and departments. “We move people around to broaden their experience,” says Inglese. “They may start in employment litigation and after two to three years move elsewhere to develop their skills. They may want to do advisory work which uses their employment backgrounds, so they become employment advisers. This meets the needs of the individual and the organisation.”

But the variety of the lawyers’ work goes beyond the major departmental variety – it also covers, as Inglese terms it, “tiny bodies and departments”, which bring in largely litigation and advisory work. Lawyers are no less busy in terms of the complexity and volume of work when handling these types of cases as those arising out of the mammoth, sprawling Government departments.

Part of this work arises out of the Cabinet Office, which retains its original function of handing work to the Treasury Solicitor’s Department from its central advisory division. This is advisory work for the much smaller Government departments such as the National Security Agency. The department represents the agency in various claims for disclosure of secret service documents, including individuals wrongfully convicted in the Arms to Iraq affair.

Other agencies which use the department are education standards body Ofsted, which draws on its expertise in common law and public law, and the Judicial Appointments Commissioner for advice on commercial contracts and public and employment law.

Also, because the department does not take on certain Government work, its lawyers can handle work investigating such departments. One client, for example, is the Retained Organs Commission. The Department of Health does not have a sufficient degree of independence for it to be without conflicts of interest, so the Treasury Solicitor’s Department is a handy stopgap for legal matters arising out of the commission’s work. It is also the type of high-profile work that the lawyers were intended for at the department’s inception.

“The commission is very new and important in the public eye. It was set up as a result of a problem, so it looks for legal advice. [New bodies] either know about us and come to us or are recommended,” says Inglese.
So, with Government agency and departmental work flowing in, has there been any review of how much work is outsourced? It seems not. Simmons & Simmons, Denton Wilde Sapte and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer remain the only firms on the department’s panel, and they are used not for their expertise in litigation but for general contract and procurement work. Inglese says there is a lot of work around private prison contracts, particularly in terms of design.

Counsel are members of one of the department’s A, B or C panels. All are free to offer themselves up for other work except two barristers, Philip Sales of Eldred Tabachnik QC’s and James Goudie QC’s 11 King’s Bench Walk and Jonathan Crow of 4 Stone Buildings. They are the crème de la crème of the department’s counsel – Inglese describes them as “immensely impressive”.

But Inglese himself, while having a degree of civil servant servility about him – “there are parts to my job I just can’t tell you about; I’m not teasing you, I just can’t tell you” – has a lot of enthusiasm for all aspects of his work. His ambition for many years had been to join the Treasury Solicitor, which he joined as its deputy in 1997. For two years before that he was legal adviser to the MoD, which he joined from the OFT.

As well as managing the legal divisions, recruitment and lawyers’ career development are both a big part of Inglese’s role.

New Labour has meant more work for Inglese’s team, perhaps unsurprisingly given the predominance of former lawyers in the Cabinet. He says: “The Government wants to work increasingly with lawyers, and is requiring its programme to be delivered through legislation.” New Labour is also responsible for installing the Human Rights Act into UK law. Another factor that has led to a steep increase in workload is a society that is becoming more litigious by the day, and Inglese points to significant increases in personal injury work, particularly relating to prisons.

However, despite the stresses and strains, the department’s work is varied and inundated with the sort of big cases that many lawyers in the private sector can only dream about.
Anthony Inglese
Deputy Treasury solicitor
Treasury Solicitor’s Department

Organisation Treasury Solicitor’s Department
Sector Government
Employees 430
Legal Capability 300
Head of legal Juliet Wheldon
Reporting to Attorney-general Lord Goldsmithh
Location London
Main law firms Denton Wilde Sapte, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Simmons & Simmons