Director's cut with MoJ's James Dowler

Directors do some of the most interesting and challenging work in the civil service. Here, James Dowler, director for international, rights and constitutional policy at Ministry of Justice, explains what it takes to do his job
"Success is a team effort – and they are fantastic!" says James Dowler

By Civil Service World

31 Jul 2023


To do your job well you need...  

Success is a team effort – and they are fantastic! We are motivated by the importance of human rights and the rule of law, and a desire to help ministers to grapple with these issues.

First job in government?  

Enabling service personnel in Afghanistan to vote in the 2010 general election. Constitutional policy isn’t just conceptual; it has a real impact on people’s lives.

Proudest achievement to date?

My team’s support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, to make sure the independent International Criminal Court can investigate war crimes. In March, we held the Justice Ministers’ Conference at Lancaster House in London (see pic), which brought together more than 40 countries to offer financial and expert help to the ICC prosecutor. President Zelenskyy spoke by video link: so powerful and memorable.

Most bizarre thing that’s happened to you at work?

In the Middle East, we had lunch with a justice minister, a real honour. Mouth-watering food was served. I took several helpings and was completely full as our plates were cleared. Then the main course came out…

If you weren’t a civil servant you’d be...  

Involved in public policy in some way. It’s what I find most interesting.

What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever been given?

The theory of the incomplete leader is empowering (and helps with imposter syndrome). Nobody is the complete package, so understand what you’re good at, work on the gaps, and draw strength from the team’s collective skills.

If you could wave a magic wand over the civil service, what would you change?

The civil service can get a hard time in the media, unfairly so. I’d use the wand to change those inaccurate perceptions.

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