Former Government Legal Department head Jonathan Jones joins top law firm

Appointments watchdog Acoba admits potential risks exist but clears new role with Linklaters
Sir Jonathan Jones photographed by Paul Heartfield for CSW

By Jim Dunton

05 Mar 2021

The government’s former top lawyer, Sir Jonathan Jones, is taking up a new role with a leading law firm – six months after quitting his job over ministers’ willingness to break international law with post-Brexit legislation.

Jones, who resigned as permanent secretary of the Government Legal Department and Treasury solicitor in September,  will become a senior consultant in the public and administrative law team at Linklaters later this month. The part-time role will see him advise clients on public law and practical engagement with government.

Jones told anti-corruption watchdog the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments that his new areas of responsibility would include judicial review challenges, Brexit-related issues,  public inquiries and parliamentary select committees.

He also acknowledged that as Linklaters is on three government panels from which officials can procure legal services, he “may be involved” in advising or working with government departments when they engage he firm. The panels are: the Crown Commercial Services Panels for General Legal Services; Finance and Complex Legal Services; and Rail Legal Services.

Acoba, which vets new jobs sought by former ministers and senior officials for two years after they leave office, approved Jones’s request to work for Linklaters despite acknowledging “a risk” that access to information he had in office could “offer an unfair advantage” to the firm.

It added that the risk was put into sharper focus by the fact that Jones’ potential future clients and the matters he may be asked to advise on were unknown.

“There is a risk this could overlap and conflict with matters he had responsibility for as Treasury solicitor and permanent secretary,” Acoba’s decision letter said.

However the watchdog noted that neither the GLD nor the Cabinet Office objected to Jones’ new role, although the latter recommended conditions be imposed limiting his involvement in bids for government contracts and projects.

It said that in addition to the regular Acoba bans on lobbying government and using privileged information, Jones’s role at Linklaters should be limited to providing advice on matters that did not conflict with his role as GLD perm sec and Treasury solicitor for a period of two years.

Acoba added that as a barrister, the Bar Code of Conduct prevented Jones from working on matters where a conflict was present.

Linklaters said Jones had “unique experience” of advising on public and constitutional law matters, as well as advising on complex matters of law, particularly in relation to the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Global head of dispute resolution Michael Bennett said Jones was a “very welcome addition” to the firm’s public law bench.

“His highly impressive expertise and invaluable insights will be of great strategic benefit to both our clients and the firm,” he said.

The Cabinet Office’s submission to Acoba suggested that some of the information Jones had access to during his time in government had “become outdated”, but it accepted that this would not be the case for all information.

It added that following the agreement of the UK’s departure terms from the EU in December, information surrounding those negotiations had become public.

Susanna McGibbon was appointed as Jones's successor at GLD last month. Jones left the organisation in December following a period of gardening leave.

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