Attorney general

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An attorney general or attorney-general, in most common law jurisdictions, is the main legal advisor to the government, and in some jurisdictions they may also have executive responsibility for law enforcement, prosecutions or even responsibility for legal affairs generally.


  • Though the mere opinion of an Attorney- or Solicitor-General ought not to be cited, yet coupled with the fact, it may have some weight as showing the general sense of professional men.
  • The regular way of of pardons is by the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General. &c. They are men of the law, and might stop it in their office, and the rest of the offices, &c . . . . To pardon before trial, when the King knows not what fact he is to pardon, is a dangerous precedent. . . . The King cannot pardon a man, an impeachment depending.
    • Serjeant Ellis, Proceedings against Thomas Earl of Danby for high treason (1678—1685), 11 How. St. Tr. 773, 774.
  • At common law, the Attorney-General is, when he is exercising his functions as an officer of the Crown, in no case that I know of a Court in the ordinary sense.
    • Bowen, L.J., In the matter of Van Gelder's Patent (1888), 6 Rep. Pat. Cas. 28.
  • I think that in the emergency situations like we have with potentially weapons of mass destruction, the agent in the field needs as much flexibility as he can and the decision of probable cause as to what’s going to occur needs to be made not in headquarters and not by the attorney general and not by a special court in Washington, but by the agent in the field who needs to respond immediately.
  • I wish to say a word or two about the position of the Attorney-General, because in my judgment it is of importance in this case, and his position appears likely to be lost sight of. Everybody knows that he is the head of the English Bar. We know that he has had from the earliest times to perform high judicial functions which are left to his discretion to decide. For example, where a man who is tried for his life and convicted alleges that there is error on the record, he cannot take advantage of that error unless he obtains the fiat of the Attorney-General, and no Court in the Kingdom has any controlling jurisdiction over him. That perhaps is the strongest case that can be put as to the position of the Attorney-General in exercising judicial functions. Another case in which the Attorney-General is preeminent is the power to enter a nolle prosequi in a criminal case.1 I do not say that when a case is before a Judge a prosecutor may not ask the Judge to allow the case to be withdrawn, and the Judge may do so if he is satisfied that there is no case; but the Attorney-General alone has power to enter a nolle prosequi, and that power is not subject to any control. Another case is that of a criminal information at the suit of the Attorney-General, a practice which has, I am sorry to say, fallen into disuse. The issue of such an information is entirely in the discretion of the Attorney-General, and no one can set such an information aside. There are other cases to which I could refer to be found in old and in recent statutes, but I have said enough to show the high judicial functions which the Attorney-General performs.
    • A. L. Smith, L.J., Reg. v. Comptroller-General of Patents (1899), L. R. Q. B. D.Vol. 1[1899], p. 913.
  • Where the King has no share, and the King's Serjeant or Attorney-General prosecute not, and the King's name is not so much as mentioned, and only by the Commons of England, which the Courts Westminster cannot punish; it is you that have the interest in the suit, and all the Commons of England.
    • Sir Francis Wilmington, Proceedings against Thomas Earl of Danby, Grey's "Debates," Vol. VII. 167. See also 11 How. St. Tr. 786.

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