In most common law jurisdictions, the attorney general or attorney-general (sometimes abbreviated AG) is the main legal advisor to the government. The plural is attorneys general (traditional) or attorney generals.
In some jurisdictions, attorneys general may also have executive responsibility for law enforcement, prosecutions or even responsibility for legal affairs generally. In practice, the extent to which the attorney general personally provides legal advice to the government varies between jurisdictions, and even between individual office-holders within the same jurisdiction, often depending on the level and nature of the office-holder's prior legal experience.
Where the attorney general has ministerial responsibility for legal affairs in general (as is the case, for example, with the United States Attorney General or the Attorney-General for Australia, and the respective attorneys general of the states in each country), the ministerial portfolio is largely equivalent to that of a Minister of Justice in some other countries.
The term was originally used to refer to any person who holds a general power of attorney to represent a principal in all matters. In the common law tradition, anyone who represents the state, especially in criminal prosecutions, is such an attorney. Although a government may designate some official as the permanent attorney general, anyone who came to represent the state in the same way could, in the past, be referred to as such, even if only for a particular case. Today, however, in most jurisdictions, the term is largely reserved as a title of the permanently appointed attorney general of the state, sovereign or other member of the royal family.
Civil law jurisdictions have similar offices, which may be variously called "public prosecutor general", "procurators", "advocates general", "public attorneys", and other titles. Many of these offices also use "attorney general" or "attorney-general" as the English translation of the title, although because of different historical provenance, the nature of such offices is usually different from that of attorneys-general in common law jurisdictions.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Attorneys-general in common law and hybrid jurisdictions
- 2.1 Australia
- 2.2 Bangladesh
- 2.3 Barbados
- 2.4 Canada
- 2.5 Fiji
- 2.6 Hong Kong
- 2.7 India
- 2.8 Ireland
- 2.9 Isle of Man
- 2.10 Israel
- 2.11 Jamaica
- 2.12 Kenya
- 2.13 Kiribati
- 2.14 Malaysia
- 2.15 Maldives
- 2.16 Mauritius
- 2.17 Myanmar
- 2.18 Nepal
- 2.19 New Zealand
- 2.20 Pakistan
- 2.21 Philippines
- 2.22 Samoa
- 2.23 Singapore
- 2.24 Sri Lanka
- 2.25 Tonga
- 2.26 Trinidad & Tobago
- 2.27 United Kingdom
- 2.28 United States
- 2.29 Zimbabwe
- 3 Similar offices in non-common law jurisdictions
- 4 Lists of countries, states or territories with attorneys-general
- 5 References
- 6 External links
In regard to the etymology of the phrase Attorney General, Steven Pinker writes that the earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1292: "Tous attorneyz general purrount lever fins et cirrographer" (All general attorneys may levy fines and make legal documents). The phrase was borrowed from Anglo-Norman French when England was ruled by Normans after the conquest of England in the 11th-century. As a variety of French, which was spoken in the law courts, schools, universities and in sections of the gentry and the bourgeoisie, the term relating to government got introduced into English. The phrase attorney general is composed of a noun followed by the postpositive adjective general and as other French compounds its plural form also appears as "attorneys generals". As compared to major generals, a term that also originates from French ("major-général") and also has a postpositive adjective, it also appears as "attorney generals". Steven Pinker writes: "So if you are ever challenged for saying attorney-generals, mother-in-laws, passerbys ... you can reply, 'They are the very model of the modern major general.'"
Attorneys-general in common law and hybrid jurisdictions
Attorneys-General in common law jurisdictions, and jurisdictions with a legal system which is partially derived from the common law tradition, share a common provenance.
Isle of Man
In Nepal, the Attorney General is the chief legal adviser of Government of Nepal as well as its chief public prosecutor. An Attorney General is appointed by the President on the recommendation of Prime Minister. The Attorney General's Office is a constitutional body under the Constitution of Nepal (2072). For a person to be eligible for the post of Attorney General, they must also be qualified to be appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court.
Trinidad & Tobago
England and Wales
Other attorneys-general in the UK
In the federal government of the United States, the Attorney General is a member of the Cabinet and, as head of the Department of Justice, is the top law enforcement officer and lawyer for the government. The Attorney General may need to be distinguished from the Solicitor General, a high Justice Department official with the responsibility of representing the government before the Supreme Court. In cases of exceptional importance, however, the Attorney General may choose personally to represent the government to the Supreme Court.
The individual U.S. states and territories, as well as the federal district of Washington, D.C. also have attorneys general with similar responsibilities. The majority of state attorneys general are chosen by popular election, as opposed to the U.S. Attorney General, who is a presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate.
In nearly all United States jurisdictions the attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer of that jurisdiction, and as such attorney general may also be considered a police rank. The proper form of addressing a person holding the office is addressed Mister or Madam Attorney General, or just as Attorney General. The plural is "Attorneys General" or "Attorneys-General".
Similar offices in non-common law jurisdictions
Non-common law jurisdictions usually have one or more offices which are similar to attorneys-general in common law jurisdictions, some of which use "attorney-general" as the English translation of their titles.
In the Netherlands, there are two types of attorneys-general, that are only historically related.
The first type of attorney-general ("advocaat-generaal" in Dutch) is the public prosecutor in criminal cases at appellate courts.
The second type of attorney-general ("procureur-generaal", while their replacements are called "advocaat-generaal") is an independent advisor to the Supreme Court. These people give an opinion on cases (called "conclusies") in any field of law (not just criminal law), supported by a scientific staff. The Supreme Court may either follow or reject the opinion of the attorney-general (which is published together with the eventual decision). In a way, an attorney-general acts as yet another judge, but in the Dutch system that does not allow dissenting opinions to be published, it is the only way to reflect different perceptions on a case. The Procureur-Generaal also prosecutes members of parliament in the case of misfeance.
Dutch attorneys-general do not normally advise the government.
Lists of countries, states or territories with attorneys-general
- Collins English Dictionary
- American Heritage Dictionary
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary
- Pinker, Steven (1999). Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language (1st ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books. pp. 25, 28. ISBN 0-465-07269-0. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
- "U.S. Attorneys Generals Protest Trump's Ban: Liberty Is Bedrock of Our Country". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
- "Former Attorneys Generals at Work". New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
- "Office Of The Attorney General". Retrieved 4 July 2015.
- Tait, Maggie (12 May 2008). "Customary land excluded from Samoa bill". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 17 September 2011.
- "wetten.nl - Regeling - Wet op de rechterlijke organisatie - BWBR0001830". wetten.overheid.nl. Retrieved 2017-01-11.
- Barzilai, Gad; Nachmias, David (1997). The Attorney General: Authority and Responsibility. Principles, Institutions in Comparative Perspective, Analysis and Recommendations for Reforms. No. 6. Jerusalem: Israel Institute for Democracy.
- Barzilai, Gad (2010). The Attorney General and the State Prosecutor: Is Institutional Separation Warranted?. Jerusalem: Israel Institute for Democracy.
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