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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.Contents
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.Australia Main article: Attorney-General for Australia Bangladesh Main article: Attorney-General of Bangladesh Barbados Main article: Attorney-General of Barbados Canada Main articles: Canadian Minister of Justice and Canadian Minister of Public Safety Fiji Main article: Attorney-General (Fiji) Hong Kong Main article: Secretary for Justice (Hong Kong) India Main article: Attorney General of India Ireland Main article: Attorney General of Ireland Isle of Man Main article: Attorney General (Isle of Man) Israel Main article: Attorney General of Israel Jamaica Main article: Attorney General of Jamaica Kenya Main article: Attorney General of Kenya Kiribati Further information: Politics of Kiribati Malaysia Main article: Attorney General of Malaysia Maldives Main article: Attorney General of the Maldives Mauritius Main article: Ministry of Justice (Mauritius) Myanmar Main article: Attorney General of Myanmar Nepal
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.New Zealand Main article: Attorney-General (New Zealand) Pakistan Main article: Attorney-General of Pakistan Philippines Main article: Office of the Solicitor General (Philippines) Samoa
In Samoa, the Attorney General is the legal adviser to the government. The current[update] Attorney General is Aumua Ming Leung Wai.Singapore Main article: Attorney-General of Singapore Sri Lanka Main article: Attorney General of Sri Lanka Tonga Main article: Attorney General (Tonga) Trinidad & Tobago Main article: Attorney-General of Trinidad and Tobago United Kingdom Main article: Law Officers of the Crown England and Wales Main article: Law Officers of the Crown in England and Wales Northern Ireland Main article: Law Officers of the Crown in Northern Ireland Scotland Main article: Law Officers of the Crown in Scotland Wales Main article: Law Officers of the Crown Other attorneys-general in the UK Main article: Law Officers of the Crown (Other persons) United States Main articles: United States Attorney General and State attorney general See also: District attorney and United States Attorney
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".Zimbabwe Main article: Attorney General of Zimbabwe Similar offices in non-common law jurisdictions See also: Advocate General and Public procurator
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.Afghanistan Main article: Attorney General's Office of Afghanistan Brazil Main articles: Attorney General of the Union and Prosecutor General of the Republic Crimea Main article: Prosecutor General of the Republic of Crimea Dominican Republic Main article: Attorney General of the Republic (Dominican Republic) Germany Main article: Public Prosecutor General (Germany) Hungary Main article: Chief Prosecutor of Hungary Indonesia Main article: Attorney General of Indonesia Italy Main article: Ministry of Justice (Italy) Mexico Main article: Attorney General (Mexico) Netherlands
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.Norway Main article: Office of the Attorney General of Norway Russia Main article: Prosecutor General of Russia Serbia Main article: Public Attorney's Office of the Republic of Serbia Soviet Union Main article: Procurator General of the USSR Spain Main article: Spanish Attorney General Vietnam Main article: Supreme People's Procuracy of Vietnam Lists of countries, states or territories with attorneys-general
See Justice ministry § Related articles and listsReferences Citations