4.2 The Attorney-General is the principal legal adviser (the “senior law officer”) to the government. The Attorney-General is a Minister and almost always a member of Cabinet. In Cabinet and Cabinet committee meetings, the Attorney-General gives legal advice and encourages ministerial colleagues to seek appropriate legal advice in the course of government decision-making. The Attorney-General should be consulted on policy papers that raise significant legal issues.
Role of the Attorney-General
Law officer role
4.3 The Attorney-General has particular responsibility for maintaining the rule of law. The Attorney-General has a responsibility to notify Cabinet of any proposals or government actions that do not comply with existing law and to propose action to remedy such matters. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 requires the Attorney-General to report to Parliament if a bill appears to be inconsistent with this Act.
4.4 The Attorney-General may take into account public policy considerations when exercising the law officer functions. By convention, however, the Attorney-General is not influenced by party political considerations, and should avoid appearing to be so influenced. Consequently, when acting in the law officer capacity, the Attorney-General is not subject to collective responsibility. The Attorney-General may seek the views of other Ministers, and they may volunteer their views.
4.5The Attorney-General, as a Minister, whether inside or outside Cabinet, shares collective responsibility for the decisions of Cabinet that do not relate to the law officer role.
Legal proceedings involving the Crown
4.6 The conduct of legal proceedings involving the Crown is the responsibility of the Attorney-General. In practice, the Solicitor-General, the Crown Law Office, or departmental legal teams, acting on the Attorney-General's behalf, generally provide legal services to the portfolio Minister or the department involved in proceedings. The Attorney-General monitors litigation or prosecutions in which the Crown is involved, and informs Cabinet of progress.
4.7The Attorney-General also has a role in advising Cabinet on the indemnity of individual Ministers involved in legal proceedings (see paragraphs 4.45 - 4.49).
Link between the judiciary and the government
4.8 The Attorney-General is the link between the judiciary and executive government. The Attorney-General recommends the appointment of judges and has an important role in defending the judiciary by answering improper or unfair public criticism, and discouraging ministerial colleagues from criticising judges and their decisions (see paragraphs 4.12 - 4.16).
Responsibility for agencies
4.9 The Attorney-General is answerable to the House of Representatives in relation to the agencies under the Attorney-General's control, such as the Crown Law Office and the Parliamentary Counsel Office.
Attorney-General's functions and section 7 of the Constitution Act 1986
4.10 When the Attorney-General is overseas, unwell, or otherwise temporarily unavailable:
- another Minister may exercise the Attorney-General's ministerial functions under section 7 of the Constitution Act 1986; and
- the Solicitor-General may exercise the Attorney-General's law officer functions under section 9A of the Constitution Act 1986.
4.11 If necessary, an Acting Attorney-General may be appointed by warrant to exercise the law officer functions of the Attorney-General (for example, an Acting Attorney-General is needed to exercise the functions of the Attorney-General under section 7 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990).