Attorney-General (New Zealand)
|Attorney-General of New Zealand|
|Parliamentary Counsel Office|
|Reports to||Prime Minister of New Zealand|
|Appointer||Governor-General of New Zealand|
|Term length||At Her Majesty's pleasure|
|Formation||7 May 1856|
|First holder||Frederick Whitaker|
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
The Attorney-General is a political and legal officer in New Zealand. The Attorney-General is simultaneously a ministerial position and the chief law officer of the Crown, and has responsibility for supervising New Zealand law and advising the government on legal matters. The current Attorney-General is Chris Finlayson.
Responsibilities and powers
The Attorney-General has two main areas of official responsibility. Firstly, the Attorney-General has ministerial jurisdiction over the Crown Law Office, the Parliamentary Counsel Office, and the Serious Fraud Office. Secondly, the Attorney-General is the principal law officer of the Crown, responsible for supervising the state's administration of the law and for providing legal advice to the government. In the latter role (but strictly not in the former), the Attorney-General is assisted by the Solicitor-General, a non-partisan official. This is to reduce the extent to which the Attorney-General's actions on behalf of the state (as opposed to the government) can be influenced by their political allegiance.
A more complete description of the Attorney-General's powers can be found in the 2004 ministerial briefing prepared by the Crown Law Office, which the Attorney-General supervises.
At present, there is no statutory basis which establishes the office of Attorney-General, although the position is referenced by a number of other legal documents, such as the Constitution Act 1986.
The Attorney-General usually has a legal background; the recent exception below being Michael Cullen. In November 1906 when Albert Pitt died, there were no suitable members of the legal profession in Parliament. Hence Joseph Ward appointed John Findlay to the Legislative Council on 23 November 1906, and appointed him Attorney-General and Colonial Secretary on the same day.
The post of Attorney-General has existed since the separation of New Zealand as a distinct Crown Colony from New South Wales. Because of the dual nature of the role, however, it has sometimes been filled by politicians and sometimes by jurists — not all Attorneys-General have been cabinet ministers.
The table below is an incomplete listing of New Zealand politicians who have sat in Cabinet as Attorney-General since 1856. It does not show non-political attorneys-general. There were two previous Attorneys-General before responsible government was introduced in New Zealand in 1856: Francis Fisher who held office for less than one year in 1841, and William Swainson who held office until 7 May 1856. It is also interesting to note that Peter Wilkinson was the half-brother of his successor, Jim McLay.
|Name||Premier / Prime Minister Served||Took Office||Left Office||Party|
|1||Frederick Whitaker||Sewell||7 May 1856||20 May 1856||None|
|2||William Fox||(himself)||20 May 1856||2 June 1856||None|
|Frederick Whitaker, 2nd time||Stafford||2 June 1856||12 July 1861||None|
|William Fox, 2nd time||(himself)||12 July 1861||2 August 1861||None|
|3||Henry Sewell||William Fox||2 August 1861||6 August 1862||None|
|4||Thomas Gillies||Domett||6 August 1862||23 August 1862||None|
|Henry Sewell, 2nd time||Domett||23 August 1862||1 January 1863||None|
|Frederick Whitaker, 3rd time||Domett, (himself)||1 January 1863||24 November 1864||None|
|Henry Sewell, 3rd time||Weld||24 November 1864||16 October 1865||None|
|5||James Prendergast||Edward Stafford||16 October 1865||1 September 1876||None|
|Frederick Whitaker, 4th time||Atkinson||1 September 1876||13 October 1877||None|
|6||Robert Stout||Grey||13 March 1878||25 June 1879||None|
|Frederick Whitaker, 5th time||(himself)||21 April 1882||25 September 1883||None|
|7||Edward Connolly||Atkinson, Harry||25 September 1883||16 August 1884||None|
|Robert Stout, 2nd time||(himself)||16 August 1884||28 August 1884||None|
|Robert Stout, 3rd time||(himself)||3 September 1884||8 October 1887||None|
|Frederick Whitaker, 6th time||Atkinson||11 October 1887||24 January 1891||None|
|8||Patrick Buckley||Ballance, Seddon||24 January 1891||20 December 1895||Liberal|
|9||Albert Pitt||Seddon, Hall-Jones, Ward||22 June 1903||18 November 1906||Liberal|
|10||John Findlay||Ward||23 November 1906||26 December 1911||Liberal|
|11||Alexander Herdman||Massey||10 July 1912||4 February 1918||Reform|
|12||Francis Bell||Massey, (himself), Coates||4 February 1918||18 January 1926||Reform|
|13||William Downie Stewart, Jr.||Coates||18 January 1926||24 May 1926||Reform|
|14||Frank Rolleston||Coates||24 May 1926||26 November 1928||Reform|
|15||Thomas Sidey||Ward, Forbes||10 December 1928||22 September 1931||United|
|William Downie Stewart, Jr., 2nd time||Forbes||22 September 1931||28 January 1933||Reform|
|16||George Forbes||(himself)||28 January 1933||6 December 1935||United|
|17||Rex Mason||Savage, Fraser||6 December 1935||13 December 1949||Labour|
|18||Clifton Webb||Holland||13 December 1949||26 November 1954||National|
|19||Jack Marshall||Holland, Holyoake||26 November 1954||12 December 1957||National|
|Rex Mason, 2nd time||Nash||12 December 1957||12 December 1960||Labour|
|20||Ralph Hanan||Holyoake||12 December 1960||24 July 1969||National|
|Jack Marshall, 2nd time||Holyoake||22 December 1969||2 February 1971||National|
|21||Dan Riddiford||Holyoake||2 February 1971||9 February 1972||None|
|Roy Jack||Marshall||9 February 1972||8 December 1972||National|
|22||Martyn Finlay||Kirk, Rowling||8 December 1972||12 December 1975||Labour|
|23||Peter Wilkinson||Muldoon||12 December 1975||13 December 1978||National|
|24||Jim McLay||Muldoon||13 December 1978||26 July 1984||National|
|25||Geoffrey Palmer||Lange||26 July 1984||4 August 1989||Labour|
|26||David Lange||Palmer, Moore||4 August 1989||2 November 1990||Labour|
|27||Paul East||Bolger||2 November 1990||5 December? 1997||National|
|28||Doug Graham||Bolger, Shipley||5 December? 1997||5 December 1999||National|
|29||Margaret Wilson||Clark||5 December 1999||28 February 2005||Labour|
|30||Michael Cullen||Clark||28 February 2005||19 October 2005||Labour|
|31||David Parker||Clark||19 October 2005||20 March 2006||Labour|
|Michael Cullen, 2nd time||Clark||21 March 2006||19 November 2008||Labour|
|32||Chris Finlayson||Key, English||19 November 2008||Incumbent||National|
- Paterson, Donald Edgar (1966), "Findlay, the Hon. Sir John George", An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, retrieved 10 May 2008
- Wilson 1985, p. 153.
- Wilson 1985, p. 74.