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Role of the Attorney-General in relation to the PCO

The PCO is established by the Legislation Act 2012 and, in accordance with that Act, is under the control of the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General is also the responsible Minister for Vote: Parliamentary Counsel under the Public Finance Act 1989. The Chief Parliamentary Counsel is responsible to the Attorney-General under the Public Finance Act 1989 for the financial management and financial performance of the PCO. That Act also requires the PCO to provide to the Attorney-General each financial year with information about its future operating intentions. The PCO provides this information in its Statement of Intent. The Statement of Intent is tabled in Parliament at the time of the budget. The Public Finance Act 1989 also requires the PCO to report to the Attorney-General on its operations for each financial year. This report is also tabled in Parliament.

A principal function of the PCO under the Legislation Act 2012 is the drafting of Government Bills (including amendments to Bills during their passage through the House). The Act also requires the PCO to report to the Attorney-General on local Bills, although in practice reports are made to the select committee that considers the Bill. A similar practice is adopted in relation to private Bills. The Attorney-General may, under the Act, direct the PCO to provide drafting assistance for Bills introduced into Parliament by individual members of Parliament in cases where it is likely that there will be sufficient parliamentary support for a Bill for it to become law.

The PCO also drafts Legislative Instruments. The Cabinet Manual requires Parliamentary Counsel to certify whether or not proposed Legislative Instruments are in order for submission to Cabinet (before being submitted to the Governor-General for signing into law). If the Parliamentary Counsel gives a qualified certificate (for example, because of concerns about the lawfulness of the Legislative Instrument), the Parliamentary Counsel notifies the Attorney-General and the Minister in charge of the Legislative Instrument.

The Attorney-General is required by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 to report to Parliament on any Bills that appear to be inconsistent with the rights and freedoms contained in the Bill of Rights.

Under the Legislation Act 2012 the Attorney-General is required to prepare a three-yearly statutes revision programme for each new Parliament. The Attorney-General must consult publicly on a draft programme before it is approved by the Government and presented by the Attorney-General to the House. The programme will set out which Acts will be revised, that is, re-enacted in a more accessible form that does not change their legal effect. The PCO prepares the draft revision Bills in accordance with the programme. Before introduction all Bills must be certified by the President of the Law Commission, the Solicitor-General, a retired High Court Judge nominated by the Attorney-General, and the Chief Parliamentary Counsel.

The first statutes revision programme will be prepared for the new Parliament in 2014. After six years the Attorney-General will review, consult, and report on the necessity and effectiveness of these new requirements.

The Legislation Act 2012 requires the Chief Parliamentary Counsel, under the control of the Attorney-General, to arrange for the publication, printing, and sale of legislation. The Attorney-General has certain other related functions under the Act.

As well as having ministerial responsibility for the PCO, the Attorney-General is responsible for the Crown Law Office.

The Attorney-General is the senior Law Officer of the Crown with principal responsibility for the Government's administration of the law. This function is exercised in conjunction with the Solicitor-General, who is the junior Law Officer and head of the Crown Law Office. As senior Law Officer of the Crown, the Attorney-General acts independently and free of political considerations. The Attorney-General is usually also a Minister of the Crown with portfolio responsibilities not connected with the role of Attorney-General.

The current Attorney-General is the Hon Christopher Finlayson.

For further information on the office of the Attorney-General, visit www.beehive.govt.nz.

View Briefing Notes for the Attorney-General on the Role and Operations of the PCO, 8 October 2014 »

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