This year marked the celebration of a century since the establishment of the office of the Commonwealth Solicitor-General. It also marked a bitter public feud between the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General, and saw the resignation of the Solicitor-General, Justin Gleeson SC, who cited an ‘irretrievably broken’ relationship between the Law Officers.
The catalyst for the relationship breakdown was the issue by the Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis QC, of an amendment to the Legal Services Directions 2005, requiring his written, signed consent before the Solicitor-General could furnish an opinion on a question of law to any person in government. The Direction was the subject of a Senate Committee inquiry at which both Law Officers appeared and gave conflicting evidence. Following Gleeson’s resignation, Brandis revoked the Direction.
Understanding the nature of the relationship between the Law Officers is key to understanding the nature of the office of Solicitor-General. It is a relationship that has evolved significantly since 1916, and is now captured – albeit obscurely – in section 12 of the Law Officers Act 1964 (Cth).