In light of this week’s resignation of Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson SC, ALA national president Tony Kenyon said Senator Brandis is no longer be able to hold his position as Attoney-General.
Mr Kenyon said Senator Brandis’ actions in recent months were an “unacceptable and gross infringement on the independence” of the former Solicitor-General.
“Justin Gleeson SC is a distinguished lawyer, with an unblemished reputation for integrity. The attempt to interfere with his independence, and his resignation, are both unprecedented in the 100-year history of Australia's Solicitor-General,” Mr Kenyon said.
“There is a compelling public interest in having the Solicitor-General as an independent statutory counsel to government. A core purpose of the position is to provide frank and fearless advice to government. Senator Brandis' actions flagrantly ignore this, and bring discredit on his position as Attorney-General.
“His actions, in requiring the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, other ministers and departmental heads to seek his permission before obtaining the Solicitor-General's opinion is a particularly gross infringement on the independence of the Solicitor-General.”
Mr Kenyon said this action followed a similar incident in Queensland under the Newman government, which also forced the resignation of its Solicitor-General, Walter Sofronoff QC.
“It is of deep concern to the profession that some attorneys-general appear to have no regard for important and fundamental safeguards on executive power, such as an independent Solicitor-General,” Mr Kenyon said.
Mr Kenyon said the ALA has joined many across the broader legal profession in expressing dismay this week at the actions of Senator Brandis with respect to the office of the Solicitor-General.
“Associate Professor Gabrielle Appleby, the nation's leading expert on the role of the Solicitor-General, has stated that Senator Brandis' actions raise serious concerns for the rule of law,” Mr Kenyon said.
“Former Commonwealth Solicitor-General Dr Gavan Griffith QC has described the changes as effecting the practical destruction of the independent office of Solicitor-General, and raising ‘the uncomfortable image of a dog on a lead’.
“Former Solicitor-General and High Court Chief Justice Sir Anthony Mason QC has described Brandis' justification for his actions as ‘a stretch’.”
Mr Kenyon added that the ALA feels strongly that Senator Brandis’ actions have “crossed a key line of integrity and independence with respect to the office of the Solicitor-General”.
“Senator Brandis has not shown the requisite measure of integrity required of an Attorney-General, and we would call on the Prime Minister to remove Mr Brandis from that position,” Mr Kenyon said.
“We also call on the Attorney-General to do the right thing and resign.”