The Attorney-General of Australia is our nation’s First Law Officer. The primary responsibility of this role is to protect the rule of law and the integrity of the Courts. In practice, the Attorney- General delegates many administrative functions of their role to others.
The Attorney-General is a Member of Parliament, appointed by the Governor-General under the Constitution, on the advice of the Prime Minister. By convention, the Attorney-General is a lawyer and has the role of principal legal adviser to the Commonwealth government.
The primary responsibility of the Attorney-General is to protect, preserve and promote the rule of law.
This means the Attorney-General must ensure the law is applied equally and fairly to everyone and that checks and balances are maintained between the three arms of government – the legislature, the executive and judiciary. An inherent part of the First Law Officer’s responsibilities is also to ensure that each of these arms of government are accountable to the public.
As stated on the Attorney-General’s website:
We uphold the rule of law through our daily work to ensure:
· laws are clear, predictable and accessible
· laws are publicly made and the community is able to participate in the law-making process
· laws are publicly adjudicated in courts that are independent from the executive arm of government
· dispute settlement is fair and efficient where parties cannot resolve disputes themselves.
We support the Australian Government in being accountable for actions, making rational decisions and protecting human rights.
In essence, the Attorney-General is to be the promoter, protector and “head publicist” for the rule of law. It is the Attorney-General’s role to make sure there is public confidence in the rule of law and that those in power, whether they are the Parliament, Executive, Judiciary, Media or Community leaders, adhere to the rule of law.
Click here to read what the Job Description for the Attorney-General should include:
In protecting the rule of law, the Attorney-General must ensure the law is allowed to take its course. This means the Attorney-General must uphold established legal traditions and processes such as the presumption of innocence and fair and prompt trials. For criminal matters, the Attorney-General must ensure they are appropriately dealt with first by a police investigation and then by the judicial system. Parallel systems of justice and trial by media are contrary to the rule of law and erode public confidence in the integrity of the legal system to provide justice.
As First Law Officer, the Attorney-General is also responsible for the administration of justice. His duties include oversight of the Attorney General’s Department, the federal government department which advises the Commonwealth government on issues such as constitutional and international law matters, industrial relations, workplace health and safety, institutional integrity, fraud and anti-corruption, the family law system and people’s rights.
Under the Law Officers Act 1964 (Cth) some powers of the Attorney-General are delegated to other Law Officers. For example, the Solicitor- General acts as second Law Officer and provides legal advice to the Commonwealth and the Australian Government Solicitor. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is also a delegation under Director of Public Prosecutions Act 1983 to initiate and conduct public prosecutions.
At its most basic level, the rule of law is a simple concept. It requires that we have laws that are known, adhered to and enforced. The Australian Constitution creates a system of checks and balances on the use of power and divides the institutions of government into three arms. Each arm of government works within defined areas of responsibility and keeps a check on the actions of other.
The Attorney-General is appointed as the official “protector of the rule of law.”
It is the responsibility of the Attorney-General to speak out when the principles of the rule of law are being eroded and to ensure community support of these foundations. The Attorney-General must promote an informed citizenry and a culture of lawfulness that supports the rule of law.
However, it is not solely the responsibility of the person elected as Attorney-General to promote and protect the rule of law. It is up to the Attorney- General to ensure that every Australian- whether they be the PM, a MP, lawyer, teacher, business leader or regular average Aussie, know and value the rule of law and are actively involved in ensuring the law is applied equally and fairly.
‘The Role of the Attorney General is not political or personal‘
Click this link to read an article by Robin Speed that states:
The role of the Attorney General is not political or personal, he occupies a role which transcends these interests.
LJ King wrote in the Western Australian Law Review in October 2000;
“…a special responsibility for the rule of law and the integrity of the legal system which transcends, and may at times be in conflict with political exigencies, the Attorney-General has the unique role in government of being the political guardian of the administration of justice”
In addition, the Attorney General must perform these functions even though he might be under personal discomfort and pressure.
- Hands, T and Davies, D, “Defend Thyself!”
- The Hon Daryl Williams AM QC, “The Role of the Attorney General”
- King, LJ, “The Attorney-General, Politics and the Judiciary”
- Rule of Law Institution Podcast
In a 2014 podcast we interviewed the Shadow Attorney General for NSW, the Hon Paul Gerard Lynch, about how he sees the role and any inherent tensions
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