Attorneys General should not be allowed to work on private legal cases because there are “serious dangers” of a conflict of interest developing, former minister Shane Ross has said.
Incumbent Paul Gallagher informed the Government prior to assuming office that he had a "few existing litigation commitments to complete". The work in question involved acting for former directors of Independent News and Media who were being investigated by High Court inspectors.
The Government now says the Attorney General has "no continuing private professional obligations" and the work was dragged out because of the pandemic.
However, Shane Ross told Newstalk that, while the incumbent was a “very honourable guy”, there are good reasons why most Attorneys General gave up private legal work after taking the job:
“There is the possibility of a conflict of interest, of course, but there’s also a state interest in making sure the Attorney General doesn’t earn large sums of money outside but also doesn’t spend too much time doing it as well.”
He added: “The basic lesson of what’s happened in the last week is the Attorney General should be advising the Government and that is all the Attorney General should be doing.
"They shouldn’t be doing private work because of the serious dangers that might arise in them doing that.”
Ross also believes that the pandemic is not a reasonable excuse:
“COVID has become a great excuse for an awful lot of things that have occurred since COVID broke.
“When judges get their appointments they immediately give up and hand over their briefs straight away to somebody else. They don’t continue with their briefs at all and I think the same rule should obviously be there for the Attorney General.”
He cites as a potential conflict of interest, the Attorney General appearing before judges and against barristers who might later apply for positions he or she has a role in filling.
“The AG has got influences all over the place and it is quite apparent having sat in Cabinet with the last AG that they do have an enormous amount of influence outside their office, outside just advising the Government as well.
“And their influence in the Four Courts and their influence over the careers of barristers and the careers of judges is massive.”
Ross suggested the Government should ban the practise to prevent a potential abuse of power in the future:
“Laws and rules are made up for people who might breach these conventions. Not this one, he’s a very fine brain, he’s a very fine Attorney General.
“But it doesn’t mean that in the future these things might go awry and that would be a really dangerous situation.”
Main image: The Four Courts in Dublin. Picture by: Patrick Swan/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire)