Sir Paul Jenkins KCB QC—a tribute

Tributes have poured in following the untimely passing of Sir Paul Jenkins KCB QC, former Treasury Solicitor and Treasurer of Middle Temple.

Unsurprisingly, they have captured the essence of Paul’s accessible personality: proud barrister; wise lawyer, loved by clients; consummate mandarin; companionable gossip but never malicious; prodigious networker; colourful communicator; fearless diversity champion; a help to students and new entrants to the profession; kind and generous to others; a great and much-loved human being.

This is my tribute, as a contemporary of ‘Jenks’ in the legal service of government for over 30 years and as someone who was deeply grateful for his companionship and support during those times and since.

Paul came to government service in 1979, a dapper young man from common law chambers. Early postings in the Treasury Solicitor’s Department (TSol) included chancery litigation for the then Office of Fair Trading; a loan to advise the then Monopolies and Mergers Commission; and spells in HM Treasury’s legal team as adviser and legislator and in TSol HQ handling staff issues – recruitment, career movement, promotions – for which he was supremely skilled. An early manager described him as ‘clever, charming and agreeable’, winning the confidence of his clients at every level. These postings provided the foundation for Paul’s later career as a public lawyer with all-round advisory, litigation and legislative skills and as manager and leader.

His big break came in 1992 when put in charge of the team to advise the new Department of National Heritage (later Culture, Media and Sport) and create the national lottery. Colleagues noted that he used his new (for those days) mobile phone to make himself available to grateful clients at all times, even when on holiday.

Already identified as a high flyer, Paul’s next posting as Legal Adviser to what is now the Ministry of Justice soon followed, as did his later move to head the large legal team serving the Departments for Work and Pensions and Health. From there Paul became Treasury Solicitor and Head of the Government Legal Service in 2006.

In those days TSol was the largest legal group in government, supplying litigation services to most departments – the biggest senior litigation practice by far in the country – and advisory services to a few, but there were many other teams of lawyers employed directly by their departments. Paul’s reforming vision was to build a shared legal service across government around TSol. This involved bringing into TSol most of the other teams, including Justice, Work and Pensions and Health, Home Office and Environment. The successful result is now called the Government Legal Department. It gives clients joined-up planning, concentration of expertise and more rapid deployment of lawyers, especially important in these Brexit times. How did he do it? By a combination of persuasion and the use of his formidable network across the top of the civil service – developed at the Wednesday Morning Meetings of Permanent Secretaries – to outflank the unpersuaded. Paul never sought direct conflict with colleagues. He didn’t need to.

After his retirement Paul’s network extended further into the legal and political world, national and international, and he joined Matrix Chambers. How wonderful it was that he had just become Treasurer of his Inn, possibly the first ever Treasurer with a career as employed barrister.

The commitment of ministers to the rule of law enabled Paul, as adviser at the heart of government, to offer the full range of solutions within the law, knowing that government would ultimately have to accept his advice. Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell, points to Paul’s ‘immense legal expertise with an understanding only shared by the very best policy advisers’. Oliver Letwin testifies to Paul’s creativity in his proposal to use a Royal Charter rather than statute to set up an independent press regulator, thereby satisfying both wings of the Coalition. Equally, just because a lawyer tells a minister something is unlawful, that fact alone doesn’t close down debate. There can be strong push-back from forceful, legally literate and even legally qualified, ministers, which Paul will have resisted and deflected. His sound judgement and his reputation for offering practical, risk-based and constructive solutions stood him in good stead, as did the high level of trust that he engendered at the top of the shop, all washed down with a touch of humour to lighten tense situations when standing his ground. As the professional head of the lawyers in government service, Paul set the tone for the rest of us. His qualities enabled him to maintain the confidence of Prime Ministers, Cabinet Secretaries, Attorney Generals and the judiciary, and were the reason why even after retirement he continued to receive confidential commissions. Much of Paul’s work in government remains unknown outside. Though a prolific tweeter, he kept his clients’ confidences.

It’s an overworked word but Paul was indeed unique in the legal world. He will be sorely missed by so many of us.

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Anthony Inglese

Anthony was head of legal in five Government Legal Departments over a 38-year career, most recently as General Counsel and Solicitor to HM Revenue & Customs. A Bencher of Gray’s Inn, he now trains and mentors lawyers.