Attorney-General shares thoughts on key issues for legal profession

As part of its ongoing mandate to foster links between the legal profession and the government, ADLS once again invited Attorney-General, the Hon Chris Finlayson QC, to speak to the lawyers in Auckland, this time at a cocktail evening held at the Northern Club on Thursday 24 August 2017.

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ADLS President Joanna Pidgeon opened the evening by thanking the Attorney-General for making the time to attend, especially in light of the busy lead-up to the elections.

Role of Attorney-General

Mr Finlayson QC began with some reflections on the appropriate role of the Attorney-General, and noted that this has changed over time. While it was once acceptable for Sir Geoffrey Palmer simultaneously to serve as Attorney-General and hold the Justice portfolio, in Mr Finlayson QC’s view, this would no longer be appropriate or possible. In the fullness of time, he believes that New Zealand may well follow the English path, where the Attorney-General is not a member of Cabinet, but is available to give advice to it as and when required.

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Issues relating to the judiciary

The Attorney-General went on to give some perspective on how judicial appointments are made, particularly as regards the District Court appointment process, which may be less well-understood. He noted concerns and ongoing work about an appropriate cap on numbers of judges appointed and the appointment of temporary judges, and said that he is strongly in the camp that judges should be appointed on a permanent basis.

The Attorney-General also noted the importance of proper respect for the judiciary and his commitment to speak out in their defence in appropriate cases. He reiterated his previously expressed desire to see reform of contempt laws and is hopeful that, regardless of which party is in power post-elections, there will be movement in this area.

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Section 7 reports

Mr Finlayson QC went on to discuss Section 7 reports, which the Attorney-General uses to bring Bills (or substantial amendments to them) that may raise issues under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZBORA) to the attention of the House. He considers that these reports are now being taken more seriously, with Select Committees taking advice on them and greater attention and scrutiny being given to NZBORA issues generally.

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Tertiary instruments and statute revision

Mr Finlayson QC is also the Minister responsible for the Parliamentary Counsel Office (PCO) and commented on its current project of providing better access to regulations and other tertiary instruments. He has been very pleased with the first legislation revision under the statutes revision programme – the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 – and is working with the PCO to identify future areas for revision.

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Government legal network

The Attorney-General noted ongoing work by the Solicitor-General to build up the Government Legal Network, with the aim of ensuring that continuing legal education for those working in government departments and with the Crown is as high quality as CPD programmes such as that offered by ADLS, with which he is very impressed.

Crown Solicitor network

The Attorney-General concluded his remarks with an endorsement of the job being done by the country’s Crown Solicitors. In particular, he wished to go on record in support of the dedication of the Manukau Crown Solicitor, following a recent article in the Sunday Star Times (“South Auckland Police cases twice as likely to fall short of prosecution”, 20 August 2017). He noted that there are many reasons why a prosecution might not proceed, including issues of witness availability, subsequent impediments, etc., and that this does not mean that the Crown has declined to pursue a case – rather, the Crown is required to continually review a case in light of changing circumstances.

Mr Finlayson QC confirmed that Crown Law has reviewed each such case as to whether it was properly brought to an end and he is satisfied not only that the Manukau Crown Solicitor has acted properly, but that the new office is working “extremely well” and that “all Crown Solicitors are doing a fantastic job”.  

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