Parliament: Legal Affairs: Irvine accused of cronyism on government legal work

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The Independent Online
THE FORMER chambers of Tony Blair's professional mentor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, have received more government work than any other in London since Labour came to power, it was revealed last night.

Tories accused Lord Irvine - now the Lord Chancellor - of "cronyism" after it emerged that the account had been swollen by the appointment of one of his former colleagues to a government post.

Philip Sales, a barrister in Lord Irvine's former chambers, was appointed first Treasury counsel at the end of 1997. That means he is a preferred barrister who regularly represents government departments in court cases, but is paid private rates on a case-by-case basis. Although Mr Sales was appointed by the Attorney General, John Morris, Lord Irvine was consulted about it.

Since May 1997, the ground-floor chambers at 11 King's Bench Walk has received pounds 36,687 for services to the Lord Chancellor's department. Of 24 London chambers listed in a written answer to David Ruffley, the Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, only five received more than pounds 10,000. Three received between pounds 5,000 and pounds 10,000, and 14 received between pounds 1,000 and pounds 5,000. One chambers received just pounds 164 and another pounds 840. Last night, Mr Ruffley said that from the answer, "it looks like jobs for the boys and cronyism".

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's department said it was to be expected that the Treasury counsel's chambers would receive more work than any other. "He advises all government departments on matters for which counsel's opinions are sought," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General's department, which made the appointment, said Mr Morris had consulted the Lord Chancellor and the Treasury solicitors' department, which does the Government's legal work, before taking a decision.

Since then, a working party headed by Lord Falconer of Thoroton, another old friend of Tony Blair who was ennobled after the election and is now a Cabinet Office minister, had recommended that in future the post should be advertised.