Former top prosecutor Max Hill admonished for 'unambiguous' breach of revolving-door rules

Acoba chair Eric Pickles said Hill “chose to blatantly disregard the process as detailed to him”
Former director of public prosecutions Max Hill. Photo: PA/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

06 Mar 2024

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments has reproached Sir Max Hill, who stepped down as director of public prosecutions in October, for multiple breaches of post-government rules.

Eric Pickles, chair of the watchdog, wrote to deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden on Monday to report Hill for an “unambiguous breach” of the government’s revolving door rules, after Hill failed to wait for advice before taking on roles at a law firm and a charity.

Acoba released a chain of letters this week which detail the breaches.

In Pickles letter to Dowden, he said Hill “chose to blatantly disregard the process as detailed to him”. Hill’s conduct “seems to illustrate that not all crown servants are sufficiently clear of the standards of behaviour and rules that are incumbent on them”, Pickles added.

Pickles initially sent a letter to Hill on 19 February, asking him why he had taken up a role at law firm King and Spalding LLP before receiving advice from Acoba and setting out that “failure to seek and await advice in this case was a breach of the government’s Rules and the requirements set out in the civil service management code.”

The Acoba chair said there was an “overlap” between Hill’s work in government and his proposed work with King & Spalding, which is “exactly the kind of risk to the integrity of government that the Rules are designed to protect”.

Expanding on this point in his letter to Dowden, Pickles said: “When a former director of public prosecutions is leaving office to return to private practice, there is a reasonable concern that their recent time in government could provide insight and influence for potential commercial gain. 

"Managing the government’s interest in such moves, and ensuring the public is aware of steps taken to manage the risks, is the reason for the existence of Rules and the business appointments process.”

Hill: It was ‘imperative’ to be paid on 1 Feb

Responding to Pickles, Hill said he was “sorry and upset" to receive the letter, but added that he was “aggrieved at any suggestion” that had “taken the committee by surprise” or acted in breach of the principles of maintaining a separation between his former service and current employment.

The former DPP said he “acted carefully at every stage of the process” of his departure, submitting a “test/speculative application” in August for future employment in the legal sector. He said he had taken into account Acoba's preliminary advice on that application,which was to wait three months before undertaking any new work.

Hill said he submitted a fresh application for employment at King & Spalding on 18 December, as soon as he was offered a job there, and indicated that he would start working there on 1 February. “This allowed in excess of six weeks for consideration of my application,” Hill said.

He said it had been “imperative” that he start being paid on 1 February as he received his last wages from the CPS on 31 January, adding that he “did not depart with a full pension or anything approaching that”. 

However, in a letter to director general of the Attorney General's Office Douglas Wilson – sent on Monday alongside the Dowden one – Pickles said the committee only received “a completed application with the necessary information” from Hill, the Cabinet Office and the CPS on 22 January.

Pickles: Applicants 'shouldn’t second guess’ advice

Pickles said Hill was made aware of the process he needed to follow under government’s business appointment rules in an exchange of letters with Acoba between August and January. “It is disappointing he chose to blatantly disregard the process detailed to him,” Pickles said.

The Acoba chair added: “It is not for applicants to second guess the likely advice and conditions that Acoba will impose. Rather, each application must be considered on its merits. Having previously received what he describes as ‘test’ advice on a different position/organisation does not remove Sir Max’s requirement to seek and wait for advice in relation to this and other future roles.”

As a result of the rule breach, Pickles said Acoba will not be providing advice on the case.

In his letter Dowden, Pickles also set out that it had separately “come to Acoba’s attention” that Hill had taken up an unpaid role with the DriveForward Foundation, which was announced on 1 February, “again before advice had been finalised”. 

“Whilst the risks associated with unpaid cases are limited, this is also a breach of the Rules,” Pickles said.

The government makes the final decision on any punishment for breaching the rules. In 2022, the government introduced a form of sanction whereby breaches of the rules would be take into account in the award of honours and nominations to the House of Lords.

In response to a breach by former government chief people officer Rupert McNeil last year, Dowden said he would write to McNeil to “remind him of his responsibilities under the rules” and that he would also “explain that this breach will be taken into account when considering any future honour or public appointment.”

Hill was named Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in January in the 2024 New Year Honour List for services to law and order. He was praised for his work delivering a joint national action plan with the police to develop best practice for the investigation and prosecution of rape, as well as his "strong focus on victims" – with a summary of his achievements noting that he "personally met with families of the Manchester Arena bomb victims before the trial which led to a conviction".

Read the most recent articles written by Tevye Markson - Senior MPs urge civil service to 'break cycle of siloed, short-term thinking’

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