Attorney-General stands up in Christchurch

Attorney-General stands up in Christchurch

The Attorney-General Chris Findlayson made a presentation to the Christchurch members of ADLSI, and members of the judiciary this morning, Friday 29 July 2016.

His key topic in essence was it is our role to protect our constitution and our rights under the law. 

1. The separation of powers

Mr Findlayson noted that he is often asked to exert "his authority" over the judiciary, but he reminded us all that the separation of powers is there for a reason. The independence of our judiciary is a cornerstone of our constitution and at times there will be conflict with Parliament, Government agencies and the public including the media.  We should not undermine the role of the Judiciary for the sake of efficiency (if a law is wrong there are appropriate ways to change the law) or to score points or support our personal opinions. 

However, 'the theory [of the separate of powers] is great, but the application is often lost'.  It is one thing to discuss or even debate a court decision, but another to the attack the judge on a personal level.  And yet it is becoming more common and even acceptable in some circles to do so, often without much thought and with little information from which to launch attacks from the side lines.  It was our role as officers of the court to defend this principle, and where necessary step up to defend judges, who are not able to respond to that criticism. 

2. Legal privilege

His second point was simple, but passionately made.  The protection of legal privilege is an important legal right, not just for an individual, but for the public.  If a person cannot speak fully and frankly to their legal advisors ("the telling of the whole truth to their solicitor"), they cannot receive full, fair and frank legal advice in return.  This applies not just to an individual, but to corporations and the Crown.  For example, if a lawyer cannot give full and frank advice to their Crown client for fear what they advise may be disclosed under an Official Information request, then the Crown client is unable to act with full knowlege.  In reference to a recent case, where the judge ordered the release of two legal opinions and suggested that withholding information should be a rare event, Mr Findlayson counted that overturning the right to legal privilege must occur in very exceptional circumstances.  "It is a line in the sand, beyond which we should not go."

Attacks on the judiciary and the trend towards releasing legal opinions under the Official Information Act put at risk the ability for both the public and the Crown to act appropriately and with full access to legal advice, freely sought and freely given. "Things can get undermined by graduation, that's why we need to be vigilant." 

Thanks to the ADLSI for this opportunity to hear from one of our leading politicians on protecting our legal rights and privileges.


Posted: Monday 1 August 2016