a long tradition of legal advisors to the Crown and the State going
back as far as the reign of King Ine in the sixth century.
The post of Treasury Solicitor was first officially
defined in 1661 with the appointment of John Rushworth, who was
known as "the solicitor for negotiating and looking after the
affairs of the Treasury".
Early Treasury Solicitors undertook cases for the
Crown, Secretaries of State and the Attorney General. They were
much involved in state trials; during the 1745 rebellion, King George
II commissioned the Solicitor "to forthwith repair to such
places as the Attorney General shall direct in order to make proper
enquiries into their (the rebels) several cases, and to take care
for carrying out the said prosecutions in the most effectual manner".
The great expansion in the number and size of the
Departments of State over the early nineteenth century led to a
much wider role for the Treasury Solicitor with many wanting the
Treasury Solicitor to act for them, whilst others acquired their
own legal officers. By 1842, the office handled the legal affairs
of 13 out of 23 Departments.
The Department's role was widened further by the
Treasury Solicitor Act 1876, which made the Solicitor a corporation
sole and transferred to him functions formerly carried out by the
solicitors attached to the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Office
of Works. The Act reflected the findings of a committee set up in
1875 under Sir George Jessel, Master of the Rolls, to examine the
Government's legal business. The committee recommended the appointment
of a common head of profession "who would act as a referee
in all matters of practise, and would be adviser to the Government
in all that concerned the organisation of the legal departments
of its offices". There was not to be a single office for the
conduct of all government legal business but all the departmental
solicitors now had a common head in the Treasury Solicitor.
From 1885, the Treasury Solicitor also held
the office of Director of Public Prosecutions, until that office
was formally separated under the Prosecution of Offences Act 1908.
One of the last major cases in which the Solicitor acted as Public
Prosecutor was the Inquiry following the theft in 1907 of the Crown
Jewels of Ireland, which were never recovered.
20th Century Progress
By the time of the Second
World War, the Treasury Solicitor's Department was recognised as being
one of the largest and best organised legal concerns in the country.
War brought additional work in the form of compulsory acquisitions,
matters relating to the Defence of the Realm, and claims of all kinds
by and against the authorities.
Vacantia Division claims to be the oldest part of the Department.
Bona Vacantia means "ownerless goods" and accurately describes
what the Division deals in. The concept of bona vacantia goes back
to the old feudal theory brought over by William the Conqueror that
all property ultimately belonged to the Crown. The Treasury Solicitor
is the Crown's nominee in England and Wales (except the Duchies
of Lancaster and Cornwall) and Northern Ireland to exercise the
Royal Prerogative of collection of assets and making grants by way
of the royal Bounty. Nowadays there are two main areas of collection.
Firstly the estates of people who die intestate with no kin entitled
to inherit under the Intestacy Rules. The second area is much more
recent, though now very active and important, namely the assets
of dissolved companies and other corporate bodies.
There is a long historical link between the
office of Treasury Solicitor and that of Procurator General. The
Procurator General is appointed by the Royal Warrant and acts under
the direction of the Attorney General as solicitor for the Crown
in matrimonial issues and, in time of war, in maritime causes of
prize and prize bounty. Legend has it that William the Conqueror
was the first Procurator General and from his time, if not before,
all bastards' estates were considered the first prerogative of the
Crown until 1926.
More recently ...
In 1970 some
new large Government Department's were formed. Some parts of the new
departments had their own legal staff, while others relied on the
Treasury Solicitor. Sir Edmund Compton was asked to report on what
should happen in the future and in 1971 his report recommended that
litigation and conveyancing were centralised under the Treasury Solicitor,
who would be head of a legal career service. The Law Officer's Department
was to remain as a small secretariat, staffed largely by secondments
from other departments. Compton recommended that in departments where
legal advice was of continuous importance lawyers should be members
of the departmental team, whereas in departments where legal matters
where not of continuous importance, advice should continue to come
from the Treasury Solicitor. This forms the basis of the present arrangements.
From 1st April 1991, most of the Treasury
Solicitor's activities were placed on a repayment basis. Since that
date, the Department has been required to recover its full costs
by billing other Government Departments. On 1st April 1996, the
Treasury Solicitor's Department became an Executive Agency.
On the 1st January 2003 the Office of Government
Commerce Legal Advisors transferred from the Treasury Legal Advisors
team to the Central Advisory Division. This also brought the procurement
work in the Treasury Solicitor’s Department together.
Currently the Agency is organised into the
Litigation and Employment Group
Central Advisory Division (CAD)
Culture, Media and Sport Advisory Division
Children, Schools and Families Advisory
Treasury Advisory Division (TLA)
Government Legal Service
In the past
20 years, an explosion in the amount of public law litigation, and
in particular judicial review, has led to an increase in the amount
of litigation conducted by the Treasury Solicitor's Department.
The enactment of the Human Rights Act, devolution in Scotland and
Wales, and the ever increasing importance of European Community
law, as well as the continuing development of judicial review, means
that lawyers in the Treasury Solicitor's Department, be they litigators
or advisors, find themselves at the centre of a rapidly changing