Attorney-General (New Zealand)

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Attorney-General of New Zealand
Te Rōia Matua o Aotearoa (Māori)
Coat of arms of New Zealand.svg
Flag of New Zealand.svg
COLLINS, Judith - Papakura (cropped).png
Judith Collins
since 27 November 2023
Crown Law Office
Parliamentary Counsel Office
Serious Fraud Office
Style The Honourable
Member of
Reports to Prime Minister of New Zealand
Seat Wellington
NominatorPrime Minister
Appointer Governor-General of New Zealand
on the advice of the prime minister
Term length At His Majesty's pleasure
Formation7 May 1856
First holder Frederick Whitaker
Salary$288,900 [1]

The Attorney-General (Māori : Rōia Matua) [2] 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 Attorney-General serves both a political and apolitical function. [3] The current Attorney-General is Judith Collins.


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. [4] 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. [4] This includes upholding the rule of law [5] and advising on compliance with domestic and international obligations. [6] In the latter role (but strictly not in the former), the Attorney-General is assisted by the Solicitor-General, a non-partisan official. [4] 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. [7]

A more complete description of the Attorney-General's powers can be found in the briefings to the incoming Attorney-General prepared by the Crown Law Office (most recently in 2020).

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 which allows the Solicitor-General to exercise the functions of the Attorney-General. [8] The functions of the Attorney-General are also described in the Cabinet Manual. [9]

There is no constitutional duty on the government to follow the advice of the law officers. [10] The Cabinet Manual outlines the process by which the legal advice provided by the Attorney-General (and others) may be disclosed. [11]

The Attorney-General is also responsible for advising the Governor-General on who should be appointed judges of the courts of New Zealand. [12]


The post of Attorney-General has existed since the separation of New Zealand as a distinct Crown Colony from New South Wales. It is a distinct position from that of Minister of Justice, although the two posts are sometimes held by the same person, for example, Martyn Finlay who held both positions from 1972 to 1975.

Historically, the post could be held either by a politician or by a senior jurist, but today, it is invariably held by a member of Parliament. The Attorney-General is a member of the Executive Council and is usually appointed as a member of the Cabinet. (An exception is when David Lange was appointed Attorney-General outside Cabinet from 1989 to 1990.)

By tradition, persons appointed to the position of Attorney-General have been lawyers. Only two former Attorneys-General have not been lawyers, most recently Dr. Michael Cullen who held the post in 2005 and again from 2006 to 2008. In November 1906, when Albert Pitt died, there were no suitable members of the legal profession in Parliament. [13] Hence Joseph Ward appointed John Findlay to the Legislative Council on 23 November 1906 [14] :153 and appointed him Attorney-General and Colonial Secretary on the same day. [14] :74

The table below is an incomplete listing of New Zealand politicians who have held political appointment 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. Peter Wilkinson was the half-brother of his successor, Jim McLay.

List of attorneys-general


   Independent    Liberal    Reform    United    Labour    National

No.NamePortraitTerm of officePrime Minister
1 Frederick Whitaker Frederick Whitaker, ca 1870s.jpg 7 May 185620 May 1856 Sewell
2 William Fox Sir William Fox restored.png 20 May 18562 June 1856 Fox
(1) Frederick Whitaker Frederick Whitaker, ca 1870s.jpg 2 June 185612 July 1861 Stafford
(2) William Fox Sir William Fox restored.png 12 July 18612 August 1861 Fox
3 Henry Sewell Henry Sewell, 1860 cropped.jpg 2 August 18616 August 1862
4 Thomas Gillies Thomas Gillies.jpg 6 August 186223 August 1862 Domett
(3) Henry Sewell Henry Sewell, 1860 cropped.jpg 23 August 18621 January 1863
(1) Frederick Whitaker Frederick Whitaker, ca 1870s.jpg 1 January 186324 November 1864
(3) Henry Sewell Henry Sewell, 1860 cropped.jpg 24 November 186416 October 1865 Weld
5 James Prendergast JamesPrendergast.JPG 16 October 18651 September 1876 Stafford
(1) Frederick Whitaker Frederick Whitaker, ca 1870s.jpg 1 September 187613 October 1877 Atkinson
6 Robert Stout Robert Stout, 1885.jpg 13 October 18778 October 1879 Grey
(1) Frederick Whitaker Frederick Whitaker, ca 1870s.jpg 21 April 188225 September 1883 Whitaker
7 Edward Conolly Edward Tennyson Conolly, circa 1892.jpg 25 September 188316 August 1884 Atkinson
(6) Robert Stout Robert Stout, 1885.jpg 16 August 18848 October 1887 Stout
(1) Frederick Whitaker Frederick Whitaker, ca 1870s.jpg 11 October 188724 January 1891 Atkinson
8 Patrick Buckley Patrick Alphonsus Buckley.jpg 24 January 189120 December 1895 Ballance
9 Albert Pitt Albert Pitt.jpg 22 June 190318 November 1906
10 John Findlay John George Findlay.jpg 18 November 190626 December 1911
- Josiah Hanan
Josiah Alfred Hanan, ca 1908.jpg 28 March 191210 July 1912 Mackenzie
11 Alexander Herdman Alexander Herdman.jpg 10 July 19124 February 1918 Massey
12 Francis Bell Francis Bell.jpg 4 February 191818 January 1926
13 William Downie Stewart Jr William Downie Stewart.jpg 18 January 192624 May 1926
14 Frank Rolleston Frank Rolleston.jpg 24 May 192610 December 1928
15 Thomas Sidey Thomas Kay Sidey.jpg 10 December 192822 September 1931 Ward
(13) William Downie Stewart Jr William Downie Stewart.jpg 22 September 193128 January 1933
16 George Forbes George William Forbes.jpg 28 January 19336 December 1935
17 Rex Mason Rex Mason.jpg 6 December 193513 December 1949 Savage
18 Clifton Webb Clifton Webb.jpg 13 December 194926 November 1954 Holland
19 Jack Marshall Jack Marshall 1951.jpg 26 November 195412 December 1957
(17) Rex Mason Rex Mason.jpg 12 December 195712 December 1960 Nash
20 Ralph Hanan Ralph Hanan portrait.jpg 12 December 196022 December 1969 Holyoake
(19) Jack Marshall Jack Marshall, 1972.jpg 22 December 19692 February 1971
21 Dan Riddiford Dan Riddiford.jpg 2 February 19719 February 1972
22 Roy Jack Roy Jack.jpg 9 February 19728 December 1972 Marshall
23 Martyn Finlay Martyn Finlay, 1968.jpg 8 December 197212 December 1975 Kirk
24 Peter Wilkinson No image.png 12 December 197513 December 1978 Muldoon
25 Jim McLay Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT - Flickr - The Official CTBTO Photostream (18).jpg 13 December 197826 July 1984
26 Geoffrey Palmer Geoffrey Palmer.jpg 26 July 19844 August 1989 Lange
27 David Lange David Lange (cropped).jpg 4 August 19892 November 1990 Palmer
28 Paul East Paul East crop.jpg 2 November 19905 December 1997 Bolger
29 Doug Graham No image.png 5 December 199710 December 1999
30 Margaret Wilson Margaret Wilson crop.jpg 10 December 199928 February 2005 Clark
31 Michael Cullen Michael Cullen, 2008.jpg 28 February 200519 October 2005
32 David Parker Hon David Parker.jpg 19 October 200521 March 2006
(31) Michael Cullen Michael Cullen, 2008.jpg 21 March 200619 November 2008
33 Chris Finlayson Chris Finlayson-Net Hui 2011.jpg 19 November 200826 October 2017 Key
(32) David Parker Hon David Parker.jpg 26 October 201727 November 2023 Ardern
34 Judith Collins COLLINS, Judith - Papakura (cropped).png 27 November 2023Incumbent Luxon

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  3. Clayton, CW (1995). Government Lawyers: The Federal Legal Bureaucracy and Presidential Politics. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press. p. 13.
  4. 1 2 3 Briefing Paper for the Attorney-General (Crown Law Office, October 2017) at 3.
  5. Cabinet Office, Cabinet Manual 2017, at [4.3].
  6. "CO (16) 2: Cabinet Directions for the Conduct of Crown Legal Business 2016". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 2 February 2023.
  7. Brookfield (1979). "The Attorney-General". New Zealand Law Journal: 336.
  8. Constitution Act 1986, s 9A.
  9. Cabinet Office, Cabinet Manual 2017, [4.2]–[4.5].
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  14. 1 2 Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC   154283103.