Attorney general

In most common law jurisdictions, the Attorney General is the main legal adviser to the government, and in some jurisdictions may in addition have executive responsibility for law enforcement or responsibility for public prosecutions.



In Australia the Attorney General is the chief law officer of the Crown and a member of the Cabinet. The Attorney General is head of the Department of Justice and is the minister responsible for police, legal affairs and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. The current Attorney General, as of 2005, is Phillip Ruddock.


The Minister of Justice and Attorney General are combined into one cabinet position in Canada. The Attorney General is the chief law officer of the Crown. The Minister of Justice is concerned with questions of policy and their relationship to the justice system.

The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (previously the Solicitor General) is a separate cabinet position and administers the police, prisons and security agencies of the federal government.

England and Wales

The Attorney General for England and Wales is similarly the chief law officer of the Crown in England and Wales, and advises and represents the Crown and government departments in court. In practice, the Treasury Solicitor normally provides the lawyers to do the actual appearance in court, although the Attorney General may appear in person if he wishes. He provides legal advice to the Government (e.g. as to the legality of the second Gulf War), and acts as the representative of the public interest (e.g. in relation to charities).

The Attorney General has supervisory powers over the prosecution of criminal offences, but is not personally involved with prosecutions; however, some prosecutions (e.g. Riot) cannot be commenced without his consent, and he has the power to halt prosecutions generally. Criminal prosecutions are the responsibility of the Crown Prosecution Service, headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Attorney General may appeal cases to the higher courts where, although the particular case is settled, a point of law of public importance is at issue. For other parts of the United Kingdom, see also Law Officers of the Crown.

The Attorney General of the Duchy of Cornwall is the chief legal adviser to the Prince of Wales, and there is a separate Attorney General for the Duchy of Lancaster, which is owned by the Crown.


The Attorney General of India is the Indian government's chief legal advisor, and its primary lawyer in dealing with the Supreme Court of India. The attorney general is usually a highly-respected Senior Advocate of the Court, and is appointed by the ruling government.

The office of the Attorney General was created by the Constitution of India, and attorneys general have the right to participate in the proceedings of the Parliament, though not to vote. Unlike e.g. the Attorney General of the United States, the Attorney General of India does not have executive authority and is not a government minister; those functions are performed by the Law Minister of India. The attorney general is assisted by the Solicitor General of India and several additional solicitors general.


In the Republic of Ireland the Attorney-General is the principal law officer of the state and legal adviser to the Government of Ireland. He is not a member of the Government though he attends cabinet meetings. He is appointed by the President of Ireland upon the nomination of the Taoiseach. Before 1974 all crimes and offences were prosecuted at the suit of the Attorney General. Since then indictable criminal offences have been prosecuted by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to Government is a constituent department of the Office of the Attorney General.

See also: Chief State Solicitor

New Zealand

In New Zealand, the Attorney-General is the chief law officer and primary legal advisor of the New Zealand government. Historically, the post could be held either by a politician or by a senior jurist, but today, it is invariably held by a member of Parliament. The Attorney-General attends Cabinet, but the post is not the same as the Minister of Justice. The Attorney-General has departmental responsibility for the Crown Law Office, the Parliamentary Counsel Office, and the Serious Fraud Office.

United States

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 in the Supreme Court. In cases of exceptional importance, however, the Attorney General may choose to represent the government himself in the Supreme Court.

The individual U.S. states 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.

See also: District Attorney

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