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George Brandis restricts access to independent Solicitor-General

James Massola reported in The Sydney Morning Herald (3.6.16):

‘Attorney-General George Brandis quietly restricted access to Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson four days before the federal election was called.

‘And legal experts have questioned the move, suggesting it is an “unnecessary impediment” to expert advice and that it will allow Australia’s first law officer to assert control over the second law officer.

‘Solicitors-General provide high-level legal advice to ministers and the public service and represent the Commonwealth in important cases, such as matters before the High Court.

‘On May 4, Senator Brandis issued a Legal Services Direction that no one “may refer a question of law to the Solicitor-General except with the consent of the Attorney-General”.

‘That means all ministers – including the Prime Minister – and departments must now seek permission in writing from Senator Brandis and receive his signed consent. ‘Fairfax Media has spoken to Queens Counsels, Senior Counsels and other members of the legal community and many expressed surprise at the move, although most declined to comment publicly.

‘Several suggested the relationship between Senator Brandis and Mr Gleeson had grown frosty over matters, including the 2013 same-sex marriage High Court case, the 2015 advice Mr Gleeson provided over changes to citizenship laws and over the drafting of same-sex marriage plebiscite legislation.’

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