The new CG and some raised eyebrows

Betsan Powys
Former political editor, Wales

image copyrightOther
image captionTheodore Huckle QC, Carwyn Jones' choice as Counsel General

While I've had a few days off doing as little as possible, the new Welsh Government's been busier behind the scenes than it might have seemed in public. Ministers are settling into their new departments, or becoming re-acquainted with their old ones in some cases.

One major public announcement was that of the First Minister's nomination for the post of Counsel General, the government's chief legal adviser.

The post was previously held by the Labour Newport East AM John Griffiths. This time, Carwyn Jones has decided to look beyond his Assembly group and plumped for Theodore Huckle QC, from the Civitas chambers in Cardiff. In their announcement, the Welsh Government (are you getting used to dropping that 'Assembly'?) say "his expertise will prove invaluable as we use our enhanced legal powers to deliver on our commitments for the people of Wales".

It's fair to say that some eyebrows are being raised in the Welsh legal community about the appointment - it's not one that people saw coming, put it that way. There's a degree of head-scratching going on about why this is the ideal candidate for this particular role.

One of those who's raised more than eyebrows is the constitutional expert Alan Trench. Writing on his blog Devolution Matters here he politely but firmly raises the question of Mr Huckle's experience (or lack of it) in advising on constitutional matters. He's also concerned about the part-time nature of the appointment.

To be clear, Mr Huckle is a highly regarded QC. The eyebrows are raised because his expertise is mostly in the field of personal injury cases. Among the high profile cases he's fought is £300,000 awarded to two Virgin Atlantic masseurs who suffered from RSI as a result of giving shiatsu massages to overweight passengers in first-class lounges at Heathrow and Gatwick.

The mutterings in the legal community are fuelled to some extent by the government's refusal to answer any questions about the appointment process for their Counsel General - how many individuals were in the running, whose advice was given during the process and so on.

On the record, they say, "The Counsel General is appointed by Her Majesty on the recommendation of the First Minister and in accordance with Section 49 of the Government of Wales Act 2006. The Counsel General has a defined set of responsibilities to perform and is not precluded from undertaking private work provided it is not in a legal area which might cause conflict with Welsh Government devolved responsibilities."

A government source also points out that neither Carwyn Jones, also a former Counsel General, nor John Griffiths were constitutional lawyers at the time of their appointment.

AMs will vote on Wednesday morning on whether to support the First Minister's recommendation on his choice of Counsel General. Thanks to the Liberal Democrats, the government has an inbuilt majority, so it will pass. But it will be interesting to see whether the motion is waved through by the opposition parties, or whether any of Mr Trench's questions are given a public airing.

Elsewhere, the government's also finalised its list of special advisers. If you read this blog with your anorak on, then read on:

Jo Kiernan - Senior Special Adviser, First Minister, Delivery Unit, Legislation, Inter-Governmental relations, Wales for Africa, Wales in the World, Freedom of Information and Broadcasting.

Andrew Bold: Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Sophie Howe: Local Government and Communities, Housing and Regeneration and Equalities.

Chris Roberts: Public Service Delivery and Transport

Steve Jones: Media, communications and Assembly business

Matt Greenough: Health and Social Services

Jonathan Davies: Education, Skills and the Welsh Language, Heritage and Sport

Specialist Policy Advisers are employed from time to time as temporary Civil Servants, often on secondment, to provide expert policy advice to Ministers and their Departments. There are three such Policy Advisers currently working in specific areas:

Jeff Andrews has been reappointed as a specialist adviser in Finance and European Programmes.

Anna McMorrin will continue in her role advising the Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development.

Ian Butler has been seconded to work as a specialist adviser for Gwenda Thomas on the Social Services and Children and Families portfolio.