Brenda King was appointed as interim Attorney General for Northern Ireland on 1 July 2020 and sworn in to office by the Lord Chief Justice 18 August 2020. She will serve for a term of 5 years, the maximum term of appointment under the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002. As Attorney General she has a wide range of responsibilities and functions as detailed below:
Chief Legal Adviser to the Executive
As chief legal adviser to the government, the Attorney General advises on the most important and complex legal matters facing the Executive.
The Office of the Attorney General has a separate staff from the Departmental Solicitor’s Office to allow detailed consideration of the matters referred and to allow the Attorney’s office to act as a revising chamber.
The Attorney General has a statutory duty to scrutinise every Bill passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly (both Executive Bills and Bills initiated by individual MLAs) to determine whether the provisions of those Bills are within the legislative competence of the Assembly.
The Attorney General is put on notice of any court case in which a devolution issue under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 arises and may participate in the litigation. The Attorney General’s Office may also lead on litigation arising from a matter on which the Attorney General has provided advice to the Executive. The Attorney General can take legal action in the public interest if certain types of contempt of court appear to have been committed.
Under section 14 of the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959, the Attorney can direct a Coroner to hold an inquest into a death.
Public Prosecution Service
The Attorney is responsible for the appointment of the Director and Deputy Director of the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland. The Attorney is also consulted by the Director of Public Prosecutions on the annual report and amendments to the Code for Prosecutors. In other respects the Attorney has a consultative relationship with the Director.
Human Rights Guidance
Under section 8 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2004, the Attorney is required to produce guidance for criminal justice organisations on the exercise of their functions in a manner consistent with international human rights standards.
The Attorney General has a number of statutory functions related to protection of the public interest in matters relating to charities. This can include participation in proceedings before the Charity Tribunal. The Attorney must also be served with cy-pres applications to the High Court so that she can consider whether it is appropriate for her to grant her fiat (consent) to the application. The Attorney may also assist the High Court on matters of law arising from such applications.
Under section 47 of the Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016, the Attorney is empowered to refer to the Review Tribunal the question of whether the authorisation of a deprivation of liberty under the 2016 Act is appropriate.
Neither lawyers in the Office of the Attorney General nor the Attorney General can provide advice to members of the public or businesses.