Solicitor-general Justin Gleeson has resigned over his 'irretrievably broken' relationship with George Brandis

Attorney-general George Brandis. Photo: Getty Images

The nation’s second highest law officer, solicitor-general Justin Gleeson has tendered his resignation following a high profile dispute with his boss, attorney-general senator George Brandis.

Gleeson resigned today saying that because the relationship was “irretrievably broken”, it was up to him to resolve the impasse.

He will step down on November 7.

“I have come to this conclusion with regret, but the best interests of the Commonwealth can be served only when its first and second law officers enjoy each other’s complete trust and confidence within a mutually respectful relationship,” Gleeson said in his his resignation letter to Brandis (printed below).

Brandis wrote back saying Gleeson’s resignation was “the proper course for you to take” and thanked him for his service.

But Gleeson did not back down in his dispute with his boss.

“My decision does not amount to a withdrawal of any position I have taken in relation to matters of controversy between us, including before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Commission,” Gleeson wrote.

He added that he “absolutely each and every attack and insinuation that has been made in recent times upon me personally, upon my office, by government members of Parliament, including you”.

The fight between the politician and solicitor-general began after Brandis insisted he must approve any requests for legal advice from Gleeson. The solicitor-general offers legal opinion to government ministers, as well as representing the Commonwealth in legal matters. Under the change, even the prime minister cannot consult the solicitor-general for advice without the attorney-general’s permission.

Brandis said he consulted Gleeson about the directive, issued in May, a claim the solicitor-general denies. The senator said Gleeson failed to understand the dictionary definition of consult.

The senate committee is considering whether Brandis misled Parliament in his claims about consulting Gleeson and is due to report on November 8, the day after Gleeson steps down.

The dispute between the nation’s two highest law officers became a major political row, raised in both parliament and during a heated senate committee hearing last week in which Gleeson was repeatedly attacked by Coalition senators on the panel.

Gleeson argued the directive was a “radical” change in the role that threatened the independence of the office. Brandis denied it was a power grab by his office.

Before taking on the role in 2013, Gleeson was the head of Sydney’s Banco Chambers. He was just the 10th person to hold the solicitor-general’s role over the last century. He was appointed to a five-year term by former Labor AG Mark Dreyfus after his predecessor Stephen Gageler SC was appointed to the High Court.

In the wake of Gleeson’s resignation, Dreyfus, now shadow AG, said the nation had “lost from its service a great legal mind and one of the most experienced constitutional lawyers in this country as its most senior legal adviser”.

He said the prime minister should sack the attorney-general.

“Senator Brandis has acted shamefully,” Dreyfus said.

“He has lied to Parliament in an attempt to cover up his power-grab, he has refused to acknowledge his wrongdoing, and he has pushed Mr Gleeson out of office to save his own skin.”

Gleeson’s letter is below:

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