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In most common law jurisdictions, the attorney general, or attorney-general, is the main legal advisor to the government, and in some jurisdictions he or she may in addition have executive responsibility for law enforcement or responsibility for public prosecutions.

Usage

The term has traditionally been 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 comes to represent the state in the same way, even if only for a particular case, is an attorney generamally the chief executive of a hierarchy of executive officials.

Etymology

Some people think the word "general" used in that way entitles the official to the honorific "general", but this is strictly only appropriate for military generals.[1] The word "general" in "attorney general" is an adjective modifying "attorney". The plural of "attorney general" is "attorneys general." The history of the term dates back to Norman England when many of the French legal terms were imported into English common law. In French, the adjective often comes after the noun and so Attorney General meant General Attorney.

Offices by country

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Australia

In Australia the Attorney-General is the chief law officer of the Crown and a member of the Cabinet. The Attorney-General is the minister responsible for legal affairs, national and public security and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Robert McClelland is the current Attorney-General.

The Minister for Justice and Customs was formerly the minister assisting the Attorney-General. As of 3 December 2007 (2007 -12-03), the Minister for Home Affairs has been responsible for the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Customs Service, as well as the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). The current Minister for Home Affairs is Brendan O'Connor.[citation needed]

The Australian states each have an Attorney-General, who is a state minister with similar responsibilities to the federal minister with respect to state law.

Functions of the state and federal Attorneys-General include the administration of the selection of persons for nomination to judicial posts, and authorising prosecutions. In normal circumstances the prosecutorial powers of the Attorney-General are exercised by the Director of Public Prosecutions and staff; however, the Attorney-General maintains formal control, including the power to initiate and terminate public prosecutions and take over private prosecutions. Statutory criminal law provides that prosecutions for certain offences require the individual consent of the Attorney-General. This is generally for offences whose illegality is of a somewhat controversial nature, or where there is perceived to be a significant risk that prosecutions of a political nature may be embarked upon. The Attorney-General also generally has the power to issue certificates legally conclusive of certain facts (e.g. that the revelation of certain matters in court proceedings might constitute a risk to national security); the facts stated in such certificates must be accepted by the courts and cannot legally be disputed by any parties. The Attorney-General also has the power to issue a nolle prosequi with respect to a case, which authoritatively determines that the state (in whose name prosecutions are brought) does not wish to prosecute the case, so preventing any person from doing so.

Brazil

Canada

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 titled Solicitor General) is a separate cabinet position and administers the police, prisons, and security agencies of the federal government.

See also Attorney General of Ontario, Attorney General of British Columbia.

Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic the Procuraduría General de la República is an institution belonging to the executive branch that is responsible for representing the Dominican State in courts of law, defending public interest, assuring respect for the due process of law and overseeing penitentiaries in the Republic. [2]

Fiji

In Fiji, the role of the Attorney General is defined as "providing essential legal expertise and support to the Government". More specific functions include "legislative drafting", "legal aid", "the prerogative of mercy" (advising the President), "liquor licensing" and "film censorship" [3].

The current Attorney General is Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. In January 2008, he sparked controversy by accepting other government positions in addition to his role as Attorney General; Sayed-Khaiyum is currently responsible also for "Public Enterprise, Electoral Reform and Anti-Corruption". An article in the Fiji Times pointed out that "never before in the history of this nation has the Attorney-General held a portfolio dealing with matters other than the law and the judiciary", and criticised the decision [4].

Hong Kong

The Attorney General of Hong Kong, renamed Secretary for Justice after transfer of sovereignty in 1997, is the legal adviser of the Hong Kong Government and heads the Department of Justice, assisted by 5 law officers, namely:

  • the Solicitor General who heads the Legal Policy Division,
  • the Director of Public Prosecutions who head the Prosecutions Division,
  • the Law Officer (Civil Law) who heads the Civil Law Division,
  • the Law Officer (International Law) who heads the International Law Division, and
  • the Law Draftsman who heads the Law Drafting Division

(The Administration and Development Division is headed by an Administrative Officer).

Crimes and offences are prosecuted at the suit of the Secretary of Justice.

The Secretary of Justice, appointed by the Central People's Government in Beijing on the advice of the Chief Executive, is an ex-officio member of the Executive Council. The position is normally held by a legal professional, and, before July 2002, a civil service position.

India

Indonesia

The Attorney General of Indonesia is responsible to advise the Government about law problems. The Attorney General is also a Solicitor General. So, the Attorney General can represent the Government in the Supreme Court. The current Attorney General of Indonesia is Hendarman Supandji.

Ireland

"The Mission of the Office of the Attorney General is to provide the highest standard of professional legal services to Government, Departments and Offices."

The Attorney General of Ireland is the legal adviser to the Government and is therefore the chief law officer of the State. The Office of the Attorney General, is made up of a number of different offices:

  • The Attorney General's Office (located at Merrion Street, Dublin 2) containing the Advisory Counsel to the Attorney General
  • The Office of Parliamentary Counsel to the Government (also located at Merrion Street, Dublin 2) containing the Parliamentary Counsel who draft legislation and have responsibilities in the area of Statute Law revision
  • The Chief State Solicitor's Office (CSSO) (located at Little Ship Street, Dublin 8) containing the solicitors representing the Attorney and the State

Since the enactment of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1974 the responsibility for the prosecution of indictable criminal offences is mostly in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions who is by law independent of the Attorney General and the State.

Isle of Man

In the Isle of Man, Her Majesty's Attorney General is a Crown appointment and Mr Attorney sits in the Legislative Council of the Isle of Man, 'ex officio'.

Israel

The Attorney General of Israel is the head of the public prosecution from the state, the person who advises the government in legal matters, the person who represents the state's authorities in the courts, and advises in preparation of law memoranda of the government in general and the Justice Minister in particular (likewise he examines and advises for private proposals for a law of Knesset members).

Jamaica

This is a position which existed in Jamaica for a long time.

Dorothy Lightbourne is the current Attorney General of Jamaica

Italy

The Italian name is Procuratore della Repubblica. He or she is the head of the Procura della Repubblica, an institution that represents the people's and the State's interests.

Kenya

In Kenya the Attorney General is the Principal Legal Adviser to the Government and ex-officio Member of Parliament and Cabinet. His duties include the formulation of legal policy and ensuring proper administration of Kenya's legal system including professional legal education. Assisting the Attorney General in the performance of his duties as Principal Legal Adviser to the Government are:

  • Solicitor General
  • Senior Deputy Solicitor General
  • Director of Public Prosecutions
  • Registrar General
  • Administrator General
  • Chairman of Advocates Complaints Commission
  • Chief Parliamentary Counsel
  • Chief State Counsel

Kiribati

In Kiribati, the Attorney General is defined by section 42 of the Constitution as "the principal legal adviser to the Government". The Constitution specifies: "No person shall be qualified to hold or to act in the office of Attorney-General unless he is qualified to practise in Kiribati as an advocate in the High Court." The current Attorney General, as of 2007, is the Honourable Titabu Tabane.

Malaysia

In Malaysia the Attorney-General or Peguam Negara (as he is referred to in Bahasa Malaysia) is the principal legal adviser to the Government. He is also the principal public prosecutor in the country, and is also known as the Public Prosecutor. He has the power, exercisable at his discretion, to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for an offence, other than proceedings before a Syariah court, a native court or a court-martial.

Mexico

In Mexico the Procuraduría General de la República is an institution belonging to the federal executive branch that is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of federal crimes.

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. By tradition, persons appointed to the position of Attorney-General have almost invariably been lawyers. Only two former Attorneys-General have not been lawyers, most recently Dr Michael Cullen who held the post in 2005, and again from 2006. Cullen's appointment was controversial at the time because of his non-legal background.

Pakistan

The Attorney-General of Pakistan is the legal adviser to the government of the Pakistan and its public prosecutor. Currently Senator Sardar Latif Khan Khoso is serving as the Attorney General of Pakistan.

Samoa

In Samoa, the Attorney General is the legal adviser to the government. The current Attorney General is Aumua Ming Leung Wai.[5]

Singapore

The Attorney-General of Singapore is the legal adviser to the government of the Republic of Singapore and its public prosecutor.

Spain

In Spain is called Fiscalía General or Ministerio Fiscal

Sri Lanka

The Attorney-General of Sri Lanka is the chief legal adviser of the Government of Sri Lanka and head of the Attorney-General department which is the public prosecutor.

Tonga

The office of Attorney General was established in Tonga in 1988, and was held jointly with the portfolio of Justice Minister until the two were separated in 2009.[6][7] The Attorney General is defined as the "Chief Legal Advisor to Government".[8]

United Kingdom

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 (who also has the title of Procurator General) normally provides the lawyers or briefs Treasury Counsel to appear in court, although the Attorney General may appear in person. The person appointed to this role provides legal advice to the Government, acts as the representative of the public interest and resolves issues between government departments.

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/her consent, and he/she 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, there may be a point of law of public importance at issue.

The Attorney General's deputy is the Solicitor General for England and Wales.

Under the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Counsel General is the chief legal adviser to the Welsh Assembly Government.

Northern Ireland

Since the prorogation of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in 1972, the Attorney General for England and Wales was also Attorney General for Northern Ireland. The separate office of Attorney General for Northern Ireland is due to be re-created alongside the new office of Advocate General for Northern Ireland upon the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Scotland

Under the recent constitutional reforms, the Lord Advocate has become an officer of the Scottish Government, while the United Kingdom Government is advised on Scots law by the Advocate General for Scotland.

The Lord Advocate is assisted by the Solicitor General for Scotland.

Other Attorneys General in the UK

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, an appointment that is held by the Crown.

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

References

  • 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. 

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