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Agency VA 2825
Attorney-General's Department (previously known as the Law Department)
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Date Range: 1851 - 1992
 
Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency
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. formally assumed responsibility for laws relating to the securities industry and company take-overs on 1 July 1981 and a Uniform Companies Code came into operation on 1 July 1982. The N.C.S.C. is responsible for the overall administration of the Co-operative Companies and Securities Scheme and the Corporate Affairs Office acts as its delegate in Victoria.

See also Inventory of Series entries for VA 2725 Companies Office and VA 679 Corporate Affairs Office.

Legal Aid

Prior to the establishment of the Office of the Public Solicitor (VA 2282) in 1928 under the provisions the Poor Persons Legal Assistance Act 1927 (No.3548), legal assistance in civil and matrimonial cases was granted in accordance with the rules of the Supreme Court, and legal assistance to persons committed for trial for an indictable offence was granted by the Attorney-General after consideration of an application for legal aid made by the accused to a judge of the Supreme Court, a chairman of a court of general sessions or to a police magistrate. (See also the Poor Prisoners Defence Act 1916 (No.2831) and the Crimes Act 1915 (No.2637 pt.v).

The Office of the Public Solicitor (VA 2282) was responsible for the provision of legal assistance in certain criminal and civil proceedings to persons who satisfied a stringent means test. Legal aid was not available for proceedings in the courts of petty sessions.

Following representations from the Council of the Law Institute and the Victorian Bar Council, the Legal Aid Committee was established in 1963 under the provisions of the Legal Aid Act 1961 (No.6805). Initially the Committee was responsible for a scheme whereby solicitors in practice provided representation for people who required assistance, but who failed the means test and for people involved in proceedings in the courts of petty sessions. Solicitors were reimbursed for part of their legal costs from the Legal Aid Fund and the Government met the administrative costs of the scheme. Gradually the Legal Aid Committee assumed responsibility for a higher proportion of civil cases and in 1970, under the provisions of the Legal Aid Act 1969 (No.7919) responsibility for the provision of legal aid in civil and matrimonial cases was transferred from the Office of the Public Solicitor to the Legal Aid Committee.

In 1981, under the provisions of the Legal Aid Commission Act 1978 (No.9245) the Legal Aid Commission (VA 877) was established. Its establishment represented a significant redefinition and extension of the concept of legal aid to include the provision of education, advice and information about the law, legal services, duty lawyer services and legal advice.

The Legal Aid Commission inherited responsibility for the provision of legal services from the Legal Aid Committee and the Office of the Public Solicitor and assumed responsibility for the provision of legal advice from the Australian Legal Aid Office. See also Inventory of Series entries for VA 2282 Office of the Public Solicitor, VA 878 Legal Aid Committee and VA 877 Legal Aid Commission.
Office of the Public Trustee

In 1931 responsibility for the Curator of estates of deceased persons was transferred to the Law Department from the Department of the Treasurer (VA 865). Under the provisions of the Public Trustee Act 1939 (No.4654), the office of the Curator of the estates of deceased persons was abolished and the Public Trustee (VA 719) became responsible for the administration of the estates of deceased persons. The Public Trustee also assumed responsibility for administration of the estates of patients, being persons detained in mental institutions and infirm persons being persons who by reason of senility, disease, illness or physical or mental infirmity were incapable of managing their own affairs. The Master in Equity (VA 2624) had been responsible for the administration of the estates of patients in mental institutions. For a brief period between 1945 and 1949 the Department of the Treasurer (VA 865) was responsible for the Public Trustee.

The Public Trustee was responsible for managing the estates of mental patients and other persons incapable of managing their own affairs and, on the order of a judge of the Supreme Court would deal with property where the owner was unknown or could not be found. The Public Trustee could also act as the appointed executor of a will and could elect to administer the estate of a person who had died intestate. In such cases the Public Trustee managed the estate and distributed the assets amongst the beneficiaries. In 1987, under the provisions of the State Trust Corporation of Victoria Act 1987, the State Trustees, a separate statutory authority within the portfolio of the Attorney-General, replaced the Office of the Public Trustee.

Equal Opportunity

The Attorney-General is responsible for the Office of the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity (VA 1830) and for the Equal Opportunity Board (VA 1417) which were established under the provisions of the Equal Opportunity Act 1977 (No.9025).

The Office of the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity is part of the Attorney-General's Department and deals with complaints under the Equal Opportunity Act through the process of negotiation and conciliation, referring unresolved complaints to the Equal Opportunity Board. The Board acts as a tribunal to hear and determine unconciliated complaints and hears applications for exemptions from the provisions of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (No.10095). The Act makes it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sex (including sexual harassment), race, marital status, impairment, political or religious beliefs in the areas of employment, education, accommodation, the provision of goods and services and in clubs and sports which receive a Government subsidy.

The Office of the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity was located in the Department of the Premier (VA 2717) until 1985.

Registration Functions

During the period 1869 to 1985, the Office of the Registrar-General and the Office of Titles (VA 862) and its predecessors the Registrar-General's Department (VA 2889), the Commissioners of Titles (VA 2926) and the Office of Titles (VA 2888) were part of the Law Department. The registration functions for which the Law Department was thus responsible included:

Registration of Birth, Deaths and Marriages 1869-1893
Census and Statistics 1869-1874
Land Titles Registration 1864-1985
Registration of Inquests 1869-1985
Registration of Patents 1869-1904
Registration of Trademarks and Copyright 1869-1905

In 1985 the Department of Property and Services (VA 430) assumed responsibility for the Office of the Registrar-General and Office of Titles. Responsibility for patents, trademarks and copyright was assumed by the Commonwealth following Federation.

For further information about these functions see VRG 19 Law and the Inventory of Series entries for VA 862, VA 2888, VA 2889 and VA 2926.

Price Control

Following a referendum in 1948, the Commonwealth Government relinquished responsibility for price control and from September 1948, the State Government assumed responsibility for price control in Victoria. A Prices Decontrol Commissioner, subsequently a Prices Commissioner, was appointed under the provisions of the Prices Regulation Acts 1948 and 1951 and a Prices Control Branch, also known as the Victorian Prices Branch, was established within the Law Department.

The Commissioner was responsible for ensuring the prevention of undue increases in prices and rates for goods, services and land, particularly for food, clothing and housing during the period of postwar re-adjustment; the regulation of prices and rates for essential goods and services and the progressive removal of price control. Price control ceased in Victoria on 31 December 1954.

Although a Minister in Charge of Prices was appointed in 1950, the Prices Control Branch remained within the Law Department.

Registry of Estate Agents

In 1978 the Law Department inherited responsibility for the Registry of Estate Agents (VA 428) from the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475). The Registry, together with the Estate Agents Board is responsible for the control, licensing, monitoring, audit and education of the estate agents profession and for the investigation of complaints from the public.

Discharged Servicemen's Employment Board

The staff of the Discharged Servicemen's Employment Board (VA 1083), previously employed within the Department of the Premier (VA 2717), were employed within the Law Department from 1950 until 1985 when the Department of Employment and Industrial Affairs (VA 2356) assumed responsibility. The Board which was established under the provisions of the Discharged Servicemen's Preference Act 1943 was required to advise and assist ex-service personnel to gain employment and to investigate small businesses on their behalf as intending purchasers.

Associated Statutory Authorities

Historically the Attorney-General's Department (previously Law Department) has been responsible for the provision of administrative services to a range of statutory authorities. While the Boards and Tribunals are themselves independent of the Department, the staff of the statutory authorities are frequently employed within the Department and all are responsible to the Attorney-General.

Statutory Authorities currently associated with the Attorney-General's portfolio include:

Administrative Appeals Tribunal (VA 2659)
Appeal Costs Board (VA 1018)
Companies Auditors and Liquidators
Disciplinary Board (VA 1154)
Crimes Compensation Tribunal (VA 1082)
Equal Opportunity Board (VA 1417)
Estate Agents Board (VA 1078)
Guardianship and Administration Board
Land Valuation Boards of Review (VA 1378)
Law Reform Commission (VA 2660)
Legal Aid Commission (VA 877)
State Classification of Publications Board (VA 1085)
State Trustees

Location of Records

The holdings of records for this agency and its associated branches are far from complete and many records remain either out of custody or lost. Researchers are advised to consult the Inventory of Series entries for the agencies nominated in the text above and to see the following sections of the List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, 3.4.1 (Law Department), 3.4.2 (Criminal Law Branch, Crown Solicitors Office), 3.4.3 (Chief Parliamentary Counsel), 3.4.4 (Public Solicitors office) 3.4.9 (Public Trustee), 3.4.10 (Master in Equity), 3.4.11 (Appeal Costs Board), 3.4.13 (Estate Agents Board), 3.18.1 (Registrar General and Office of Titles (Inquests, Land Titles)), and 3.18.2 (Registrar General (Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages and statistical information)).

 
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Record series created by this AgencyRecord series created by this Agency
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Date Range Series Title Series Number Series Location Public Access
? 1853 - ? 1856 Registry Book VPRS 254 North Melbourne Open
? 1853 - ? 1960 Register of Court Openings and Closures VPRS 7754 North Melbourne Open
? 1855 - ? 1916 Outward Letter Books VPRS 255 North Melbourne Open
? 1856 - ? 1857 Register of Returns of Courts of Petty Sessions VPRS 7752 North Melbourne Open
? 1856 - ? 1873 Reference Books VPRS 253 North Melbourne Open
? 1856 - ? 1873 Minute Books VPRS 256 North Melbourne Open
? 1858 - ? 1933 Staff Appointment Books VPRS 7744 North Melbourne Open
? 1877 - ? 1879 Monthly Returns of Mining Wardens VPRS 7753 North Melbourne Closed
? 1881 - ? 1933 Legal Despatches from England VPRS 6249 North Melbourne Open
? 1891 - ? 1963 Half Yearly Licensing Returns VPRS 270 North Melbourne Part Open
? 1906 - ? 1937 Note Book: Policies, Precedents, Opinions and Procedures VPRS 7757 North Melbourne Open
? 1911 - ? 1970 Register of Deputy Coroners VPRS 7747 North Melbourne Open
? 1911 - ? 1985 Registers of Justices of the Peace VPRS 472 North Melbourne Open
? 1915 - 1955 Register of Bailiffs VPRS 7749 North Melbourne Open
? 1975 - ? 1987 Justices of the Peace Nomination Book VPRS 16151 North Melbourne Open
1852 - 1975 Capital Case Files VPRS 264 North Melbourne Part Open
1854 - 1854 Estrays Relating To Lola Montez V Seekamp VPRS 5491 North Melbourne Open
1854 - 1855 Eureka Stockade - Historical Collection VPRS 5527 North Melbourne Open
1857 - 1954 Index to Inward Registered Correspondence VPRS 252 North Melbourne Open
1857 - 1955 Registers of Inward Correspondence VPRS 251 North Melbourne Part Open
Functions for which this Agency has or has had primary responsibilityFunctions for which this Agency has or has had primary responsibility
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Date of Responsibility Function Title Function Number
1851 - 1992 Crown solicitor's services VF 36
1869 - cont Copyright, patents and trademarks co-ordination VF 429
1873 - 1985 Titles VF 38
1874 - 1874 Census and statistics VF 3
- 1945 State trustee VF 50
1949 - cont State trustee VF 50
- 1960 Probation and parole services (youth) VF 93
1979 - 1992 Government reporting service VF 54
1980 - 1992 Estate agents, registration of VF 52
- 1981 Rental disputes, investigation of VF 471
- 1983 Raffles and bingo VF 56
- 1985 Solicitor-general VF 169
- 1985 Registrar-general VF 212
1986 - cont Charity fundraising administration VF 423
1991 - cont Registrar-general VF 212
- 1992 Courts administration VF 297
Functions for which this Agency has or has had secondary responsibilityFunctions for which this Agency has or has had secondary responsibility
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Date of Responsibility Function Title Function Number
1948 - 1950 Price control VF 49
Superior AgenciesSuperior Agencies
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Date of Relationship Agency Title Agency Number
Subordinate AgenciesSubordinate Agencies
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Date of Relationship Agency Title Agency Number
1851 - ? 1860 Police Magistrate, Portland Bay VA 4730
1866 - 1873 Office of Titles VA 2888
1929 - 1981 Office of the Public Solicitor VA 2282
1975 - 1980 Registry of Estate Agents VA 428
1978 - 1980 Registry of Friendly Societies VA 1390
1980 - 1990 State Advisory Board on Publications VA 4284
1984 - 1992 Equal Opportunity Commission VA 4278
1987 - cont State Coroner's Office VA 2807
1991 - 1992 Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages (including 1983-1986 Assistant Government Statist, Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages) VA 983
Related AgenciesRelated Agencies
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Date of Relationship Agency Title Agency Number
Groups containing this AgencyGroups containing this Agency
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Date of Relationship Group Title Group Number
1851 - 1992 Law VRG 19
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