The Chief Justice has highlighted the independence and “weighty national importance” of the office of the Attorney General, particularly in the context of Brexit, writes Ann O'Loughlin.
The Attorney General has a "crucial" role in vindicating the rights of citizens, maintaining the highest standards of the legal profession and as a point of contact between the judiciary and other branches of government, Ms Justice Susan Deham said.
The role is "particularly demanding in an era where Brexit is likely to throw up very complex legal problems," she added.
She made the remarks in an address welcoming the new AG, Seamus Woulfe, at a short ceremony before a packed Supreme Court today.
That preceded another ceremony before the Supreme Court later today when the former Attorney General, Máire Whelan, made the necessary declaration of a Judge of the Court of Appeal.
That traditional ceremony, also before a packed court presided over by the Chief Justice, was attended by judges of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court.
In her address earlier welcoming Mr Woulfe, the Chief Justice said the separation of powers in the State means each great organ of State has its own specific powers.
"It is a system of checks and balances and inevitably the courts make decisions on the actions of other branches of government," she said. "Consequently, it is necessary that there be some distance between the branches."
By nature of this position and function, "judges are not expected to engage in public controversy, as other groups may who freely express their views to members of the legislature and executive".
"Therefore, the role of the Attorney General is crucial in providing a point of contact, and a method of communication, between the judiciary and other branches of government."
The Chief Justice said the Attorney is legal adviser to the Government but is not a member of Government and holds an independent position.
"This is never an easy role but it is particularly demanding in an era where Brexit is likely to throw up some very complex legal problems."
While the Constitution recognises the separation of powers, it also imposes on the organs of state, “for some of which your role is crucial”, a common obligation to respect and vindicate the rights of citizens, she told the new Attorney.
“Indeed, the public interests are committed to the care of the Attorney General.”
Because the Attorney’s office is also responsible for drafting legislation and advising government departments and conducting civil litigation here, the office is one of “weighty national importance”.
Because the Attorney is also recognised as the leader of the Bar, and an independent Bar is “a critical aspect of our democracy”, the Attorney "has an important position in maintaining the highest standards in the legal profession, in the interests of the administration of justice”, she said.