Former DPP reported by Whitehall appointments watchdog over King & Spalding role

Max Hill rejects accusation he ‘blatantly’ disregarded vetting process before taking consultancy role at US firm

The former director of public prosecutions (DPP) for England and Wales, Sir Max Hill KC, has been reported to deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden by the Whitehall appointments watchdog for failing to adequately consult it before taking up a role at King & Spalding.  

The chair of the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), Lord Eric Pickles, told Dowden the barrister “chose to blatantly disregard the process as detailed to him” that former public officials are meant to follow when beginning new roles after leaving the civil service.  

Hill joined King & Spalding as a counsel at the beginning of February after stepping down as DPP last October at the end of his five-year term.  

Acoba, which also raised concerns in 2018 about Linklaters’ hire of Hill’s predecessor as DPP, Dame Alison Saunders, is independent from government and considers applications by former ministers and senior civil servants to take on outside roles under the government’s business appointment rules.

Pickles wrote that Acoba had received a complicated application from Hill for his role at King & Spalding, but was informed by him that he had begun the role while it was “still considering the application, and before its advice had been finalised”.

“Acoba and Sir Max exchanged several emails whereby he was made aware of the process required of him under the government’s Business Appointment Rules between August 2023 and January 2024,” Pickles wrote. “The rules clearly state that new appointments or employment must not be taken up or announced before advice is provided. It is disappointing he chose to blatantly disregard the process detailed to him.”

He added that “it is not for applicants to second guess the likely advice and conditions that Acoba will impose” and that applicants “have a personal responsibility to understand and comply with the rules and to manage the propriety of appointments” taken up on leaving government service.

The Acoba chair said there was “overlap” between Hill’s work in government and his proposed work with King & Spalding, which is “exactly the kind of risk to the integrity of government that the rules are designed to protect. “This is impossible to do credibly after someone has taken on a role,” he added.   

Hill replied to Pickles that he had “acted carefully at every stage of the process” and had abided by a three-month waiting period, “undertaking neither paid nor unpaid work 1st November ’23 – 31st January ’24 inclusive.”  

He added that he “clearly indicated” his employment with King & Spalding would begin at the start of February and had submitted a full application for the role with Acoba on 18 December, which “allowed in excess of six weeks for consideration of my application”.  

“I am aggrieved at any suggestion that I have either taken the Committee by surprise, or have acted in breach of the principles of maintaining a separation between my former service and my current employment,” he wrote.  

Hill is not the first former DPP to clash with Acoba on a move into private practice. When Saunders joined Linklaters following the end of her term, Acoba noted its concern in November 2018 that she had “sought advice on this appointment after it was announced she was joining Linklaters”.

Last summer, The Guardian reported that Labour leader Keir Starmer had failed to consult Acoba when he took a lucrative consultancy role at Mishcon de Reya after stepping down as DPP in October 2013.  

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