Law Officers of the Crown
By long tradition the Crown has appointed two Law Officers to represent its interest in the courts. The offices of Attorney-General and Solicitor-General retain the responsibility of being the principal legal advisers to the government and representatives in court. In modern practice, distinctive roles have emerged for the two Law Officers in New Zealand.
Attorney-General (Hon Christopher Finlayson QC)
The Attorney-General has two roles in government:
1. The first role is that of the senior Law Officer of the Crown with principal responsibility for the Government’s administration of the law. This function is exercised in conjunction with the Solicitor-General, who is the junior Law Officer.
2. The second is that of a Minister of the Crown with ministerial responsibility for the Crown Law Office, the Serious Fraud Office and the Parliamentary Counsel Office. Traditionally in New Zealand the Attorney-General also has policy portfolio responsibilities not connected with those of the Attorney-General.
The Attorney thus has a unique role that combines, on the one hand, the obligation to act on some matters independently, free of political considerations, with, on the other hand, the political partisanship that is otherwise properly associated with other ministerial offices.
For further information on the office of the Attorney-General, visit beehive.govt.nz
Solicitor-General (Una Jagose)
The Solicitor-General holds office as an official of government and is also the Chief Executive of the Crown Law Office. Subject only to the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General is the government's chief legal adviser and advocate in the courts. In practice, the Solicitor-General provides advice directly to Ministers, departments and agencies of government and will appear as Senior Counsel for government interests in litigation and in particular appellate court matters. A key responsibility is to advise the government on constitutional questions.
The Solicitor-General also exercises a number of specific functions within the Crown's prosecution process. These include responsibility for the prosecution of criminal jury trials and Crown representation in appeals against conviction and sentences.
By statute the Solicitor-General can exercise almost all of the statutory functions conferred on the Attorney-General. As the non-political Law Officer, the Solicitor-General has traditionally assumed responsibility for the exercise of those functions that should be undertaken independently of the political process, most notably the prosecution functions.
However, it has long been recognised that the nature and value of the office within government lies in part on the Solicitor-General's duty to give independent advice and, in relation to certain functions, to act independently. That independence is of considerable constitutional importance. Such impartial advice can be seen to be given without political direction, even on politically contentious issues.