Lawyers in government are “underpaid”, the former head of the Government Legal Department has said.
Pay for civil service lawyers compares unfavourably with those in the private sector, and even with other public-sector officials, Sir Jonathan Jones has said in an interview with The Times. The disparity means they are often poached by other organisations, including regulators, he said.
Jones had negotiated a pay deal with the Treasury last year that would have seen salaries rise – but the deal fell through after he resigned last September over the government’s threat to break part of the Brexit deal it had signed with the EU.
Instead, GLD staff were hit with the public-sector pay freeze affecting most departments that chancellor Rishi Sunak announced in last year’s Spending Review.
The freeze caused widespread anger in the department.
As head of GLD and Treasury solicitor, Jones – who joined the law firm Linklaters earlier this year – earned more than £160,000 a year and “does not complain about his salary”, according to the newspaper.
A GLD spokesperson said in February that the department had “for some time pursued a pay business case with Cabinet Office and Treasury” in a bid to “deal with some of the fundamental issues we face with pay and recruitment”.
“The rejection of the case was based on a financial decision in the context of the current economic situation and public sector spending constraints," the spokesperson said.
In the Times interview, Jones also reiterated his previously-stated concerns about the government’s attitude to the law.
“There are question marks over the government’s commitment to the rule of law,” he said. “I don’t really think the prime minister cares about the law or the rule of law at all – and probably others take their lead from him.”
Jones told CSW in January that the government’s threat to use the internal market bill to back out of parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement was “utterly disreputable” and “absolutely bonkers”.
He said at the time he disagreed “completely” with statements by attorney general Suella Braverman justifying the move.
He has now gone a step further, saying Braverman “completely failed to do what an attorney-general should have done”.
“An attorney should have stopped this, and if they failed, they should have resigned,” he said, but that there was “no way” Braverman would have done so.
“She was instrumental in the plan... you might say that’s why she was appointed – precisely so she could facilitate it,” he said.