Attorney-General's Department (previously known as the Law Department)

Public Record Office Victoria
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Full description

The Attorney General's Department (previously known as the Law Department and the Crown Law Department) is primarily responsible for the administration of the State's legal system including the management of the Courts system.

During its early years this agency was variously known as the Attorney-General's Offices/Chambers, Law Offices of the Crown and Crown Law Offices, and more recently has been known as the Crown Law Department and the Law Department.

As from 1 March 1987 the Law Department became known as the Attorney-General's Department because the Government considered that the new name more accurately reflected the functions of the Department. The change was one in name only and there was no change in the functions for which the Department was responsible.

Following significant machinery of government changes after the election of the first Kennett Government in October 1992, the Attorney-Generals Department was abolished. Under Administrative Arrangements Order No.114 the Department of Justice assumed responsibility for all of its functions.

Joint Ministerial Responsibility

With separation from New South Wales on 1 July 1851, administration of the judicial system became the joint ministerial responsibility of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General with a "Chief Clerk" as Secretary, and subsequently, as Permanent Head of the Department. Prior to this, the Superintendent of the Port Phillip District was ultimately responsible for the administration of the Courts system in the Port Phillip District.

Joint ministerial responsibility for the Department continued until 1951 when, under the provisions of the Solicitor-General Act (No.5604), the Attorney-General became the sole political head of the Law Department, and the position of Solicitor-General became a non-ministerial appointment made by the Governor-in-Council. Between 1985 and 1992 the Premier (VRG 50) was responsible for the Solicitor General. In some ministries during the period 1861 to 1891, the Solicitor General was known as the Minister of Justice.

Although the division of ministerial responsibilities was not constant for the entire period 1851 to 1951, the Attorney-General was usually responsible for the administration of the Supreme Court and its Officers and their staff who were employed in the Law Department. The Officers of the Supreme Court included the Master in Equity (also known as the Master in Equity and Lunacy 1867-1923) (VA 2624), the Master of the Supreme Court (VA 2613), the Register of Probates (VA 2620) the Sheriff and the Prothonotary.

The Attorney-General was also responsible for the Court of Insolvency and for the administration of the Crown Law Officers including the Crown Solicitor (VA 667), the Crown Prosecutors, the Parliamentary Draftsman and the Court Reporting Branch. The Attorney-General was responsible for the Curator of estate of deceased persons from 1931 and for its successor the Public Trustee (VA 719), for the Office of the Public Solicitor (VA 2282) from 1928 and for the Registrar General's Department (VA 2889), subsequently the Office of the Registrar General and Office of Titles (VA 862), the Commissioner of Titles (VA 2926) and the Office of Titles (VA 2888) and the Commissioner of Patents, all of which were part of the Law Department.

The Solicitor General/Minister of Justice were traditionally responsible for the staff and administration of the County Courts, Courts of General Sessions, Courts of Requests, Courts of Petty Sessions, Courts of Mines, Licensing Courts, Coroner Courts and Children's Courts and were thus responsible for the Police (later Stipendiary) Magistrates, Wardens, Clerks of Court and Coroners.

Functions of the Attorney-General's Department

The major functions for which the Attorney-General's Department is currently responsible include:

the administration of justice including the operation of the Courts system in Victoria through the Courts Management Division
the regulation of commercial and professional affairs through the Corporate Affairs Office
the provision of legal and policy advice to the Attorney-General and the development and co-ordination of Government initiatives in the legal area
the provision of solicitor services and legal advice to Government, its agencies and instrumentalities through the Office of the Victorian Government Solicitor
the provision of legal drafting services to Government and Members of Parliament through the Chief Parliamentary Counsel's Office
the implementation of Government policy concerning legal reform and regulatory matters and the provision of means to protect individual liberties and human rights through the Law Reform Commission, the Legal Aid Commission, the Public Advocate and the Office of the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity
the provision of administrative and legal services to certain associated statutory bodies.(see below)

A number of the agencies within the Attorney-General's Department have the status of associated administrative units and the heads of these units exercise the powers of a Chief Administrators under the provisions of the Public Service Act 1974 (No.8656) as amended by the Public Service (Amendment) Act 1984 (No.10046). Units having this status include the Office of the Victorian Government Solicitor (previously the Crown Solicitor) (VA 667), the Corporate Affairs Office (VA 679) and the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel (VA 629).

Brief History of Functions and Agencies associated with the Attorney-General's Department (previously the Law Department).

Courts Management

Responsibility for the management of the Courts system is currently exercised by the Courts Management Division which is responsible for the administration and the provision of services and staffing in the Supreme, County, Magistrates', Coroners' and Childrens' Courts and other boards and tribunals associated with the Attorney-General's Department.

For information about the history, operations and officers of the State's Courts see VRG 4 Courts and the Inventory of Series entries for the Supreme Court (VA 2549), and its officers including the Master in Equity (VA 2624), the Master of the Supreme Court (VA 2613) and the Registrar of Probate (VA 2620); the Coroners' Courts (VA 2263) and the local Magistrates Courts listed in the Inventory of Agencies for VRG 4 Courts.

Victorian Government Solicitor

The Office of the Crown Solicitor (VA 667) was established in 1841 with the appointment of James Montgomery as Crown Solicitor. The Crown Solicitor was responsible for the conduct of criminal proceedings and civil litigation on behalf of the Government until 1983 when responsibility for the conduct of criminal proceedings, particularly those in the higher courts was transferred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (VA 2550).

In 1987 following an amendment to the Schedule Two of the Public Service Act the Crown Solicitor became known as the Victorian Government Solicitor. This Officer acts as solicitor to the Executive Government, Ministers, Government departments and instrumentalities and the Office provides legal services which range from the provision of legal advice, drafting and conveyancing services to the conduct of summary prosecutions and civil litigation. See also the Inventory of Series entry for VA 667.

Director of Public Prosecutions

This office was established in 1983 with the proclamation of the Director of Public Prosecutions Act 1982 (No.9848) and assumed responsibility for those functions previously administered by the Criminal Law Branch of the Crown Solicitor's Office. The Director of Public Prosecutions (VA 2550) is responsible for the preparation, institution and conduct of criminal proceedings on behalf of the Crown in the Victorian Supreme Court (VA 2549) and County Court (VA 686) and where relevant, in the High Court of Australia. The Director of Public Prosecutions may also conduct prosecutions for summary offences and assist coroners in the conduct of an Inquest.

Although the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is to some extent associated with the Attorney-General's Department and responsible to the Attorney-General, it is quite independent of the Department and has the status of a separate administrative unit under the provisions of the Public Service Act 1974 (No.8656) as amended. The Director of Public Prosecutions has the powers of a Chief Administrator. (See also Inventory of Series entry for VA 2550).

Chief Parliamentary Counsel

The Office of Chief Parliamentary Counsel previously known as the Parliamentary Draftsman, is responsible for the preparation of Bills for introduction in Parliament. The Office also gives assistance to the Judges of the Supreme Court and to the Magistrates in the preparation of Rules of Court.

The Subordinate Legislation (Review and Revocation) Act 1984 (No.10169) conferred responsibility on the Chief Parliamentary Counsel to review statutory rules and advise on clarity, validity and compliance with guidelines before submission of the rule to the Governor in Council. For further information about subordinate legislation see VRG 20 Parliament.

Registration and Regulation of Companies

Prior to the appointment of a Registrar of Companies under the provisions of the Companies Act 1958 (No.6455), the Registrar General had been responsible for the registration of companies. In 1959 a Companies Registration Office (subsequently the Companies office) (VA 2725) was established. The Office was initially a branch of the office of the Registrar General and Office of Titles (VA 862) but subsequently became a separate division of the Law Department.

The Companies Office was responsible for the administration of the Companies Act including the registration and regulation of companies and the registration of business names and for ensuring compliance with the provisions regarding matters such as company take-overs, the responsibilities of company directors, the registration of share holdings and the audit and publication of accounts.

Establishment of Corporate Affairs Office (VA 679)

In 1974 in accordance with the provisions of the Interstate Corporate Affairs Agreement, the governments of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria agreed to establish an Interstate Corporate Affairs Commission, the members of which were nominated by the States' Attorneys-General. The Agreement sought to achieve greater uniformity in the law relating to companies and the regulation of the securities industry and to establish reciprocal arrangements and common standards and procedures with regard to such matters as the incorporation of companies; regulation of the securities industry and trading in securities; registration of prospectuses; approval of trust deeds; requirements relating to accounts and audit; proclamation of companies as investment companies and class and individual exemption powers relating to fund raising and to take-overs.

Under the provisions of the Companies (Interstate Corporate Affairs Commission) Act 1974 (No.8565) the powers of the Registrar of Companies were transferred to the Commissioner for Corporate Affairs and the Companies Office was renamed the Corporate Affairs Office.

Establishment of National Companies and Securities Commission (N.C.S.C.)

The National Companies and Securities Commission was established by the Commonwealth Government with the agreement of the States.

The N.C.S.C. f... truncated
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