Rahul Sharma

Attorney General (New Zealand)

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Style  The Honourable
Formation  7 May 1856
Attorney-General (New Zealand)
Member of  Cabinet of New Zealand Executive Council
Reports to  Prime Minister of New Zealand
Appointer  Governor-General of New Zealand
Term length  At Her Majesty's pleasure

The Attorney-General is a political and legal officer in New Zealand. The Attorney-General is simultaneously a ministerial position and the chief law officer of the Crown, and has responsibility for supervising New Zealand law and advising the government on legal matters. The current Attorney-General is Chris Finlayson.


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, e.g. Martyn Finlay 1972–1975.

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; the recent exception below being Michael Cullen. In November 1906 when Albert Pitt died, there were no suitable members of the legal profession in Parliament. Hence Joseph Ward appointed John Findlay to the Legislative Council on 23 November 1906, and appointed him Attorney-General and Colonial Secretary on the same day.


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 Attorneys-General 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. It is also interesting to note that Peter Wilkinson was the half-brother of his successor, Jim McLay.


Attorney-General (New Zealand) Wikipedia

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