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Downing Street needs a legal advisor, says legal advisor

Posted by: Laurence Simons 12/06/12

PM operates without legal counsel.

As in-house counsel jobs go, how does this one sound: central London offices. You get to play around with a resident cat all day. Sometimes you get the chance to live out Machiavellian fantasies by whispering conspirationally in the Prime Minister's ear. Sounds great, right? (Occasionally you might have to pick an eight-year-old up from the pub.) Amazing, yes? Well, sadly, no: as Sir Daniel Bethlehem QC told BBC Radio 4 this week, the British government has no dedicated legal counsel within its immediate inner circle of advisors.

Surprised? So was Sir Bethlehem, when he became the first lawyer outside of the government legal service to be appointed by the Foreign Office back in 2006. He was so surprised that he waited six years, five of them working for the government, and then told BBC's Law in Action radio show all about it.

"I imagine that it would be useful and salutary to the Prime Minister to have a lawyer in his team to be able to say, 'Prime Minister, there is a legal issue here' when there is a breaking news story," he said, pointing out that the PM had advisors in every other area of expertise, such as economics, science and foreign policy. There's even a government-appointed obesity advisor, paid to slap the biscuits out of the hands of chunky children.

"To my mind, it's a machinery of government failing that law, which is so important within our system and done rather well within departments, is not perhaps addressed as well as it might be addressed at the heart of government, in Number Ten and in the National Security Council," he continued. And he has a point: maybe it's time for David Cameron to consider his legal recruitment options across London.

Meanwhile, in America, Reid J Schar is proving a stint as a government attorney is no bad thing for your career. The prosecutor - who infamously won corruption convictions against spellcheck-botherer Rod Blagojevich - is leaving the US attorney's office after 13 years for private practice pastures, following in the high-profile footsteps of fellow US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. Despite rumblings that another big name is set to join the private practice ranks, the stampede of departures is nothing sinister. "Many of these people have stayed for 10-plus years is a tribute to the positive environment and opportunities that Pat Fitzgerald created at the office," explained former prosecutor David Weisman.