Parliamentary counsel are lawyers who prepare legislation that it is proposed to pass into law. The terms Parliamentary draftsman and legislative counsel are also widely used. These terms are used in relation to the United Kingdom parliament in Westminster, and other parliaments and assemblies based on the Westminster system. The official title, and organization, of the parliamentary counsel varies between legislatures. For example, those who draft government legislation for the UK parliament form the Parliamentary Counsel Office (established in 1869 under the title of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel) while the Scottish Government's Parliamentary Counsel Office drafts legislation for the Scottish Parliament, the (Northern Irish) Office of the Legislative Counsel drafts legislation for the Northern Ireland Assembly and the (Welsh) Office of the Legislative Counsel performs the same role in relation to the National Assembly for Wales. In the Republic of Ireland, there is an Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to Government. In Australia, each state, territory and the federal government has an Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.
The job of a parliamentary draftsman is to draft the detailed form of proposed laws, in a way that will accurately reflect the intentions of the politicians who are promulgating them, without leaving loopholes or producing perverse results. This is an almost impossible task, and the pursuit of exact and watertight legislation has often resulted in obscure and convoluted language. Such language has been criticised both by government bodies such as the committee under Sir David Renton that reported in 1975 (and recommended drafting which was more based on principles than specific details to address every possible situation).
In parliamentary discussion, the draftsman is rarely if ever referred to by name, but only as an office. However, the post has been held by a number of distinguished lawyers, for example Bernard O'Dowd in Australia, John Ferguson McLennan specialising in Scottish law (which though enacted entirely in the UK parliament from 1707 until 1999, is distinct from English law), and William Philip Schreiner in South Africa.
- McCluskie QC, John Cameron, "Who Wrote This Bill? The Life and Work of Scottish Parliamentary Counsel", Scottish Parliamentary Review, Vol. I, No. 2 (Jan, 2014) [Edinburgh: Blacket Avenue Press]
- The preparation of legislation (1975). Cmnd. 6053 (The report of the Renton Committee).
- Zander, M. (2004). The law-making process, 6th edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-60989-5