Attorney-General (New Zealand)

Attorney-General (New Zealand)

The Attorney-General is a political office in New Zealand. It is simultaneously a ministerial position and an administrative office, and has responsibility for supervising New Zealand law and advising the government on legal matters.

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.

The position of Attorney-General is distinct from that of Minister of Justice, although the two posts are sometimes held by the same person, eg Martyn Finlay 1972-75.

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, and Michael Cullen is only the second minister without a legal background to have held the position.


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 Attorney-Generals 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.

External links

* [ Ministerial Briefing describing the role of the Attorney-General]

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