The Office of Parliamentary Counsel Visit Sussex University

The session was conducted by Jenny, Richard and Niamh, who are members of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel (OPC), based in the Cabinet Office. All of the guests were approachable, insightful and helpful with regards to any questions we had. They began the session by explaining what they do and their roles as civil servants, as well as how each of them ended up working for the Government. It was interesting to hear the different backgrounds of each of them and understand how they came to work in the public sector. They explained the various roles of the OPC including the drafting of Government bills and amending those bills, drafting or reviewing secondary legislation as well as a more general advisory function where they may advise the Government on legal, Parliamentary and constitutional questions within their expertise.

They also touched upon the Government Legal Department who provide legal services to Governmental departments, including advisory work and work with the employment law, commercial law and litigation sectors, with clients including the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Justice.

The nature of working for Government means that the work can involve some hugely politically significant topics for legislation, including Brexit, data protection and the space industry meaning that the work they do has real world impact. Each of them undertakes interesting and varied work on important public matters and are working in the public interest, which brings a real sense of purpose to the job. One of the most interesting points that was raised by Jenny was the fact that many people who now work in this area have come from a private firm background, however very few people go from working for the Government to working in the private sector – Richard and Jenny both used to work for private firms and made the transition to the public sector. 

Jenny, Richard and Niamh also explained how it is possible to qualify as a solicitor or barrister with the Government, which is something I found particularly interesting as when in university, we often get caught up with the idea of working for a private firm and ignore the possibility of working with the Government. There is a legal trainee scheme which offers training contracts and pupillage opportunities for Undergraduate Law and GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) graduates. It was also highlighted how there are other Government jobs available for graduates who are not yet qualified solicitors, including paralegals and research assistants, which is also something I had never considered. This is of particular interest as it can take time to secure a training contract, so having one of these roles would therefore give a solution for the interim years. 

After the introduction, we were split into three groups and were given a board game to play; Niamh sat with our group and explained how the game worked. Niamh is a researcher at OPC as well as completing the BPTC part time, therefore had first-hand knowledge of much of the process. As we each rolled the dice and moved our counters along the board, we travelled through the stages of the legislation process. Each stage was explained further to us by Niamh. There were also question cards, which gave various scenarios that may have occurred, which could have a positive or negative effect on our legislative journey, which meant we had to move backwards or advance forwards, depending on the scenario. This game was an incredibly fun and innovative way of introducing students to the legislative process, and Niamh was able to explain everything and answer any questions we had. We even got quite competitive towards the end of the game! By making the workshop interactive and entertaining, it was less cumbersome and easier to absorb information than if we were to have a lecture on the process instead. It also gave us a more realistic insight as to how bills are passed back and forth multiple times between the House of Commons and House of Lords before being successfully passed into legislation through Royal Assent.

The session ended with an exercise whereby we were given seven ways of writing the same legislation. We had a discussion, saying what we did or did not like about each way of writing. This highlighted how there is no one correct way of writing legislation, and there are various techniques that are used.

The session as a whole was incredibly eye-opening; most of what was said was brand new to me and I had not previously considered a career in this sector. The workshop gave us insight into how, potentially, our work could have a major impact on day-to-day life and help shape the society we are in. 

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