April 4, 1922 (14th Parliament, 1st Session)


Hugh Guthrie

Conservative (1867-1942)


That touches the point I desire to raise. For many years, I think, the various departments have had solicitors upon their staff. I notice on page 77 of the Estimates that the Department of the Interior has another departmental solicitor drawing a similar salary; and if you turn to page 76 you will find that in the Department of Secretary of State there are two departmental solicitors. There is also one in the Department of External Affairs, and one in the Militia Department; but the latter is Judge Advocate General and deals with military law, because I think the practice in this department in regard to civil law is to refer all questions to the Justice Department. I think there is a solicitor in the Customs Department, another in the Public Works Department, and certainly one in the Department of Railways. Now under our system we have a Department of Justice which is the responsible legal department of the Government. The head of that department is the legal adviser of the Government, and of all the departments of the Government, and in my judgment that department alone should retain the necessary legal assistance and should advise the various public departments. I have heard this matter discussed
by the last Minister of Justice the hon. Mr. Doherty, and I remember hearing it discussed during the former Liberal administration. The truth is that under the present system each department is acting for itself in regard to practically all the legal matters, while at the same time the head of the Department of Justice is nominally responsible for the administration of justice and the conduct of legal affairs throughout all the departments of government. I believe that the legal talent in the various departments should be concentrated in a single department. I think there would then be a considerable saving, and even if there were no saving it is proper that it should be done. I believe that in England they have certain law officers of the Crown, as we have here, but they are all in their proper department and advise the various departments of the public service; and if outside advice is sought, or extra work has to be done by solicitors, it is the Justice Department of Great Britain that employs them. They are responsible for every department and I think that system is the one we should work out here. To me it is an anomaly that, for instance, the solicitor of the Customs Department, or the solicitor of the Interior Department should advise that department and carry on legal business in the department, as Js done in hundreds of cases, without referring the matter in any way whatsoever to the Department of Justice. During my term in the Department of Justice I saw case after case where there was a variance between the ruling of the Department of Justice and the ruling of the solicitor for the particular department involved. The thing is bound to happen. I know that Mr. Doherty had very serious views on the subject and I believe if the matter were tackled, money could be saved and better administration would result. In addition to that, we would have one single head responsible for the administration of all law in all departments. I, would ask the ministers to consider the question, and see if they cannot concentrate and amalgamate in this instance, just as the minister is endeavouring to do in the matter of national defence.

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