Visit by the Attorney General for England and Wales

04 June 2013
UK AG visit
PhD Student Edward Willis, Dean Andrew Stockley, UK Attorney General Dominic Grieve, AULSS President Camille Butters, Professor Bruce Harris

The Right Honourable Dominic Grieve QC MP visited the University of Auckland on Friday 10 May at the invitation of the Auckland Law School and gave a lecture at Old Government House on ‘an Attorney in the Digital Age’. The lecture was attended by Law School faculty members, students, and members of the profession and judiciary.

Dominic Grieve has been Attorney General for England and Wales and Advocate General for Northern Ireland since 2010. The Attorney General is the chief legal adviser to the British government and has a number of independent public interest functions, as well as overseeing the Law Officers’ departments. These are the Crown Prosecution Service, the Serious Fraud Office and the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate.

The Attorney was introduced by Dean Andrew Stockley and spoke about his role in general and then about the work he had done on contempt, discussing the problems posed by the internet. As Attorney General for England and Wales, Dominic Grieve described his role as two-fold. Firstly as chief legal adviser to the government, where he must confront (and disappoint!) his colleagues when he has to tell them their policies are illegal, however good they may be. Secondly as the “guardian of the public interest”, representing the Crown in nationally-significant cases, and at the International Court of Justice. In the context of criminal law, the Attorney noted he superintends the Crown Prosecution Service, and said that the service has significantly improved conviction rates compared with when the police handled prosecutions.

He went on to note the impact of modern technology, especially the internet, in terms of presenting new challenges for the jury trial system. The Attorney referred to the English case of a juror (Fraill) befriending a cleared defendant (Sewart) on Facebook and disclosing the jury’s deliberations while the trial against a co-defendant was still in progress. Both the juror and the cleared defendant were later found to be in contempt. He also discussed the case of the “Googling juror” (Theodora Dallas), who had researched a defendant’s past on the Internet and shared the information with her fellow jurors.

Dominic Grieve noted he remained a firm believer in the jury trial system, which was proving it could cope with the new challenges of the digital age. He concluded his lecture by taking a wide range of questions from the audience.