Engineers for the machinery of Government.


Burness Paull has assembled one of the strongest, dedicated teams of lawyers who focus purely on matters relating to government, the public sector and their relationship to business and society, working regularly across high profile and highly sensitive issues within public inquiries and judicial reviews.

Our combined experience in advising on a full spectrum of Administrative Law matters across Scotland, the UK and Europe is unrivalled. We act for a wide range of private sector companies in respect of their interactions with state bodies and have represented a number of key individuals and groups.

Our lawyers are expert across all manner of public law challenges, including statutory appeals, judicial review, tribunals, disciplinary proceedings, inquiries, investigations and procurement challenges.

This expertise is regularly called upon by clients in an advisory capacity – we are widely recognised as the market leader in developing and implementing innovative governance models for the delivery of public services.

Burness Paull’s public law team is known for its strength and expertise in judicial review advice and litigation as well as in a range of statutory appeals.

Our particular strength lies in acting for the entire spectrum of parties – from individual challengers, pressure groups, regulated licence holders and Government contractors to local and central Scottish and UK Government, the Scottish Parliament, various Commissions and Commissioners, Audit Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority.

Working seamlessly across regulated sectors including education, police, energy, regulated professions and statutory ombudsmen is our speciality.

We are incisive, strategic and pragmatic. We will work with you to raise or defend cases that are worth it and help you sidestep the ones that are not. We pride ourselves in using our encyclopaedic knowledge of the law in creative and innovative ways for tangible results.

Our expertise in statutory investigations and public or parliamentary inquiries collectively dates back over twenty years, providing us with one of Scotland’s most experienced teams in this area. This experience is further enhanced by the firm’s considerable expertise within its Employment, Health & Safety and Environmental practice teams.

Our team members have acted as external solicitors to major public inquiries (including the UK Magnox Inquiry, which reported in 2021). They have also represented core participants and key witnesses in many of the recent major inquiries, including the Edinburgh Trams Inquiry, the Stockline Inquiry and the Holyrood Inquiry. Most recently our team has been providing advice in connection with the Scottish Parliament’s Inquiry into the Scottish Governments’ handling of harassment complaints.

Burness Paull’s combined experience in advising on a full spectrum of administrative law matters across Scotland, the UK and Europe is market-leading.

We understand from first-hand experience that administrative law impacts every aspect of how the Government and the wider public sector interacts and contracts with business, whether it’s litigating, decision-making or regulating.

Our decades of experience in working both in and alongside the institutions of government across the UK, advising NDPBS, regulatory bodies and statutory officeholders provides us with a deep insight into how these institutions work and think. This in turn gives us a strategic advantage in advising third parties who interact with government – we understand your business imperatives and how to deliver these in a political and regulated context.

If you are a third party who interacts with government we can give you a strategic advantage – we understand how to deliver your business imperatives in a political and regulated context.

Members of Burness Paull’s public law team have both worked within and advised the Westminster and Holyrood Parliaments over a number of years. This has included advising the Scottish Parliament on its information law policies and procedures.

Our constitutional knowledge has been applied most recently for our clients on the once in a generation constitutional changes including Brexit and potential implications of a Scottish Independence Referendum.

Our public law team includes two solicitors who have been involved in drafting Bills for the Scottish Parliament. The depth of our expertise has covered drafting provisions for Members' Bills, Private Bills, UK Bills and European legislation from the security of third country flights to legislation on chambers of commerce in Afghanistan.

Our team’s expertise has also been sought by Members of the UK Parliament in challenging election laws, advising the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority which regulates Westminster MPs’ expenses and behaviour, advising Members of the Scottish Parliament in connection with standards and conduct issues and advising the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland (and previously the Scottish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner) in relation to complaints about MSPs and local councillors.

Good governance and robust decision-making needs to be within the DNA of government, public sector and regulatory bodies.

We have worked with clients such as central and local government, regulators, universities and colleges and national transport authorities to embed strong and responsible governance cultures that help facilitate and protected the proper administration of functions rather than hinder them.

This includes drafting or revising Royal Charters, Orders of Council, Orders in Council, regulations, guidance and other governance instruments.

The firm's public sector lawyers are at the cutting edge of emerging developments and new thinking when it comes to alternative delivery models for public services, including:

  • shared services
  • structures for joint delivery of public services
  • culture and leisure trusts, LLPs and other offshoots
  • social enterprises, mutual and cooperative models
  • public / private joint ventures
  • innovation partnerships

We were the first to introduce the limited liability partnership (LLP) model in a local authority context. We also devised the legal framework for Glasgow Life - which set the benchmark for a host of subsequent projects. The team has since been involved in around 25 culture/leisure trusts – acting for the local authority or the offshoot trust at the set-up stage, in the context of the transfer of additional facilities/operations, taking services back in-house, and/or winding-up.

As regards public infrastructure, Burness Paull acted for the public sector participants on the first hub initiative project to reach contractual close - the South East Territory hub; and we continue to provide support to hubWest on ongoing projects.

Our public sector lawyers advised Scottish Futures Trust in relation to the corporate structure for the Non-Profit Distributing (NPD) model, and in reworking the model for revenue-funded hub projects, and we continue to track the proposals for the introduction of a version of the Welsh Mutual Investment Model (MIM) for future revenue-funded projects in Scotland.

In January 2021 the UK Government implemented a new subsidy control system, replacing the old state aid regime. Our lawyers were immediately immersed in working with clients on what the changes meant for them – including helping with the development of new funding schemes for clients such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise.

Our team has extensive experience of working with government, public sector entities and organisations, such as Scottish Futures Trust, the Oil and Gas Technology Centre and Perth and Kinross Council, as well as private companies. We work with clients to develop tailored solutions to navigate through the complexities of the law and to help clients understand how to operate within the new state subsidy rules and regulations to meet their commercial objectives. We also work collaboratively with our clients to share our insights on how the regime is evolving.

State subsidy rules apply to public support in any form, including:

  • grants
  • loans
  • guarantees
  • capital investments
  • the grant of property rights (including options)
  • reliefs
  • waivers

Compliance with the state subsidy rules is not only essential for the public provider of the subsidy, it is critically important for the recipient – who may need to repay any state subsidy not given in compliance with the subsidy principles.

Please see our interactive mind-map for further details.

Work Highlights

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

Recently appointed as legal advisers to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman and her team in all legal matters. This will include advising on statutory interpretation, complaints issues, the SPSO’s role as the Independent National Whistleblowing Officer for the NHS and regulatory law matters including human rights, freedom of information, data protection and judicial review.

Guild Homes (Tayside) Limited

We acted for a consortium of Angus business people in a judicial review regarding the decision of Angus Council to demolish a popular leisure centre, which sits on common good land in Forfar.

Scottish Funding Council

We are the primary legal advisers to the SFC and work to support them in a wide range of public law matters including sector governance, terms and conditions of funding, contentious procurement law and exercise of statutory powers and obligations.

Major UK Based Utility Provider

We are acting for a major UK based utility provider in defending a procurement challenge raised by an unsuccessful bidder in the Court of Session.

Midstream Infrastructure Owner

We advised a midstream infrastructure owner in relation to the public law issues arising in the potential development of an oil & gas platform electrification project which may require change in regulatory and energy policy and legislation.

Bolt UK

We have been appointed to advise Bolt UK on various regulatory and public law matters in connection with its regulated business across the UK.