Attorney-General (New Zealand)
|Attorney-General of New Zealand|
|Crown Law Office 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|
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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 Attorney-General serves both a political and apolitical function. The current Attorney-General is David Parker.
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. This includes upholding the rule of law and advising on compliance with international obligations. 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 ministerial briefings prepared by the Crown Law Office (most recently in 2017), of which the Attorney-General is the responsible Minister.
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 which allows the Solicitor-General to exercise the functions of the Attorney-General. The functions of the Attorney-General are also described in the Cabinet Manual.
There is no constitutional duty on the government to follow the advice of the law officers. The Cabinet Manual outlines the process by which the legal advice provided by the Attorney-General (and others) may be disclosed.
The position of Attorney-General is distinct from that of Minister of Justice, although the two posts are sometimes held by the same person, for example, Martyn Finlay who held both positions from 1972 to 1975.
Historically, the post could be held either by a politician or by a senior jurist, but today, it is invariably held by a member of Parliament. The Attorney-General attends Cabinet, but the post is not the same as the Minister of Justice. The post of Attorney-General has existed since the separation of New Zealand as a distinct Crown Colony from New South Wales.
By tradition, persons appointed to the position of Attorney-General have been lawyers. Only two former Attorneys-General have not been lawyers, most recently Dr. Michael Cullen who held the post in 2005 and again from 2006. 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 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. Peter Wilkinson was the half-brother of his successor, Jim McLay.
List of Attorneys-General
(for political parties)
|No.||Name||Portrait||Term of Office||Prime Minister|
|1||Frederick Whitaker||7 May 1856||20 May 1856||Sewell|
|2||William Fox||20 May 1856||2 June 1856||Fox|
|(1)||Frederick Whitaker||2 June 1856||12 July 1861||Stafford|
|(2)||William Fox||12 July 1861||2 August 1861||Fox|
|3||Henry Sewell||2 August 1861||6 August 1862|
|4||Thomas Gillies||6 August 1862||23 August 1862||Domett|
|(3)||Henry Sewell||23 August 1862||1 January 1863|
|(1)||Frederick Whitaker||1 January 1863||24 November 1864|
|(3)||Henry Sewell||24 November 1864||16 October 1865||Weld|
|5||James Prendergast||16 October 1865||1 September 1876||Stafford|
|(1)||Frederick Whitaker||1 September 1876||13 October 1877||Atkinson|
|6||Robert Stout||13 October 1877||8 October 1879||Grey|
|(1)||Frederick Whitaker||21 April 1882||25 September 1883||Whitaker|
|7||Edward Conolly||25 September 1883||16 August 1884||Atkinson|
|(6)||Robert Stout||16 August 1884||8 October 1887||Stout|
|(1)||Frederick Whitaker||11 October 1887||24 January 1891||Atkinson|
|8||Patrick Buckley||24 January 1891||20 December 1895||Ballance|
|9||Albert Pitt||22 June 1903||18 November 1906|
|10||John Findlay||18 November 1906||26 December 1911|
|28 March 1912||10 July 1912||Mackenzie|
|11||Alexander Herdman||10 July 1912||4 February 1918||Massey|
|12||Francis Bell||4 February 1918||18 January 1926|
|13||William Downie Stewart Jr.||18 January 1926||24 May 1926|
|14||Frank Rolleston||24 May 1926||10 December 1928|
|15||Thomas Sidey||10 December 1928||22 September 1931||Ward|
|(13)||William Downie Stewart Jr.||22 September 1931||28 January 1933|
|16||George Forbes||28 January 1933||6 December 1935|
|17||Rex Mason||6 December 1935||13 December 1949||Savage|
|18||Clifton Webb||13 December 1949||26 November 1954||Holland|
|19||Jack Marshall||26 November 1954||12 December 1957|
|(17)||Rex Mason||12 December 1957||12 December 1960||Nash|
|20||Ralph Hanan||12 December 1960||22 December 1969||Holyoake|
|(19)||Jack Marshall||22 December 1969||2 February 1971|
|21||Dan Riddiford||2 February 1971||9 February 1972|
|9 February 1972||8 December 1972||Marshall|
|22||Martyn Finlay||8 December 1972||12 December 1975||Kirk|
|23||Peter Wilkinson||12 December 1975||13 December 1978||Muldoon|
|24||Jim McLay||13 December 1978||26 July 1984|
|25||Geoffrey Palmer||26 July 1984||4 August 1989||Lange|
|26||David Lange||4 August 1989||2 November 1990||Palmer|
|27||Paul East||2 November 1990||5 December 1997||Bolger|
|28||Doug Graham||5 December 1997||5 December 1999|
|29||Margaret Wilson||5 December 1999||28 February 2005||Clark|
|30||Michael Cullen||28 February 2005||19 October 2005|
|31||David Parker||19 October 2005||21 March 2006|
|(30)||Michael Cullen||21 March 2006||19 November 2008|
|32||Chris Finlayson||19 November 2008||26 October 2017||Key|
|(31)||David Parker||26 October 2017||present||Ardern|
- Clayton, CW (1995). Government Lawyers: The Federal Legal Bureaucracy and Presidential Politics. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press. p. 13.
- Briefing Paper for the Attorney-General (Crown Law Office, October 2017) at 3.
- Cabinet Office, Cabinet Manual 2017, at [4.3].
- Cabinet Office Circular “Cabinet Directions for the Conduct of Crown Legal Business 2016” (30 March 2016) CO 16/2 at [188.8.131.52].
- Brookfield (1979). "The Attorney-General". New Zealand Law Journal: 336.
- Constitution Act 1986, s 9A.
- Cabinet Office, Cabinet Manual 2017, [4.2]–[4.5].
- McLachlan, Campbell (2014). Foreign Relations Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. [4.35].
- Cabinet Office, Cabinet Manual 2017, at [4.63–4.72].
- 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.