The origins of the Victorian Government Solicitor's Office (VGSO) can be traced back to 1839, when James Montgomery took office as the Clerk of the Peace for the District of Port Phillip, then part of the Colony of New South Wales. When he resigned in 1842, Henry Field Gurner Esq was appointed as 'Clerk of the Peace and Crown Solicitor at Port Phillip.'
Following the enactment of the Australian Constitutions Act 1850 (Imp), which provided for the separation of the District of Port Phillip from the Colony of NSW and the establishment of the Colony of Victoria, in July 1851. Gurner was appointed as the first Crown Solicitor of Victoria. His appointment was announced along with other foundational appointments, including Victoria's:
- first Attorney-General, William Foster-Stawell
- first Solicitor-General, Redmond Barry.
The Crown Solicitor was supported by an office of other public servants from the early days of the Colony. The Crown Solicitor's Office played a significant legal role in the civil and criminal life of the Colony and, post Federation, the State and the Commonwealth more broadly. The office of Crown Solicitor was replaced with that of Victorian Government Solicitor (VGS) in 1987 (supported by the Office of the Victorian Government Solicitor), with the Office being established under its present name in 2004.
The legal practice of the Office has evolved over time. In 1983, its criminal practice was separated out to the Director of Public Prosecutions (now the Office of Public Prosecutions). Other practice areas have changed over time due to changes in the federal-State legislative balance, the growth in new areas of law and competitive pressures. VGSO moved to a fee for service model in 1993 and now competes in the market for legal services, with the exception of particular exclusive services (for example in constitutional law and native title).
VGSO is now established as an administrative office in relation to the Department of Justice and Community Safety with the VGS being accountable to the Attorney-General for the conduct of the VGSO's legal practice. VGSO only provides legal services for the State and in the State's interests, principally by acting for the Executive Government of the State, with the VGS being the lawyer on the record in court proceedings.
A list of people holding the office of Crown Solicitor and Victorian Government Solicitor can be viewed here.
Crown Solicitors and Victorian Government Solicitors
Reviewed 23 June 2021