By Rowena Collins Rice

19 Dec 2018

With the end of 2018 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top civil servants to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2019 – and tell us who would turn on their town’s Christmas lights.

What was your highlight of 2018?

2018 was a big year for a small office. We welcomed a new attorney general, who has taken a deep interest in all aspects of his unique role in government – as the cabinet’s legal adviser, of course, but also as the minister with oversight of government litigation and with a number of special constitutional and public interest functions in the justice system. He has brought a fascinating, professionally and historically informed, perspective to the role of attorney general, and we have enjoyed supporting him in making his mark on it.

We also welcomed a new director to the Serious Fraud Office, and Lisa Osofsky is already bringing a fresh and invigorating approach to its work – so important in our justice system and for the UK economy. And we have recently welcomed a new director of public prosecutions, Max Hill, who is looking forward to leading the Crown Prosecution Service in tackling the tough challenges of bringing 21st century crime to justice and doing right by victims and the public.

What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2018?

Our work is complex, difficult, sensitive and fast-paced – that’s why it comes to us. Demand across the range of our functions rose steeply in 2018. As the Civil Service People Surveys consistently show, our people are strongly engaged. That is how we do what we do. Keeping it that way in a tough year takes a lot of investment. Every member of AGO has a personal leadership role, and we actively care about our own and each other’s mental, emotional, social and physical health and wellbeing – ably led by our brilliant wellbeing team.

What are the main challenges facing your department in the coming year?

We are at the heart of all the big issues of the day at home and abroad that involve legal matters (and most of them do, just now). We share in the challenges of the big departments leading on them. We also have the challenges of any small department – resilience and narrow margins. But we love a challenge: problem solving is what we’re best at.

Which celebrity or historical figure would you choose to turn on the Christmas lights in your town, and why?

The brilliant and inspirational Dana Denis-Smith, Legal Personality of the Year 2018, and founder of the First 100 Years organisation, which is dedicated to celebrating and enhancing the role of women in law. It took an act of parliament in 1919 to remove the bar on women entering the legal profession in this country. Imagine! Now that really turned on the lights.

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