Attorney General for England and Wales

Her Majesty's Attorney General for England and Wales, usually known simply as the Attorney General (A-G), is one of the Law Officers of the Crown. The Attorney General serves as the chief legal adviser to the Crown and the Government in England and Wales, and though they maintain their own office, they are still subordinate to the Cabinet-level Secretary of State for Justice (Lord Chancellor).[1] The Solicitor General for England and Wales serves as the next in command and is subordinate to the Attorney General.

The position of Attorney General existed since at least 1243, when records show a professional attorney was hired to represent the King's interests in court. The position first took on a political role in 1461 when the holder of the office was summoned to the House of Lords to advise the government there on legal matters. In 1673 the Attorney General officially became the Crown's adviser and representative in legal matters, although still specialising in litigation rather than advice. The beginning of the twentieth century saw a shift away from litigation and more towards legal advice. Today prosecutions are carried out by the Crown Prosecution Service and most legal advice to government departments is provided by the Government Legal Service, both under the supervision of the Attorney General.

The job of the Attorney General is a demanding one, and Sir Patrick Hastings wrote while serving that "to be a law officer is to be in hell".[2] Duties include superintending the Crown Prosecution Service, the Serious Fraud Office, and other government lawyers with the authority to prosecute cases. Additionally, the Attorney General superintends the Government Legal Department (formerly the Treasury Solicitor's Department), HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and the Service Prosecuting Authority. The Attorney advises the government, individual government departments and individual government ministers on legal matters, answering questions in Parliament and bringing "unduly lenient" sentences and points of law to the Court of Appeal of England and Wales. Since the passing of the Law Officers Act 1997 duties can be delegated to the Solicitor General, and any actions are treated as if they came from the Attorney General.

Her Majesty's Attorney General for England and Wales
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government)
Official portrait of Mr Geoffrey Cox
Geoffrey Cox

since 9 July 2018
Attorney General's Office
Reports toPrime Minister of the United Kingdom
AppointerThe Monarch
on advice of the Prime Minister
First holderWilliam de Boneville
DeputySolicitor General


The origins of the office are unknown, but the earliest record of an "attorney of the crown" is from 1243, when a professional attorney named Laurence Del Brok was paid to prosecute cases for the King, who could not appear in courts where he had an interest.[2] During the early days of the office the holder was largely concerned with representing the Crown in litigation, and held no political role or duties.[3] Although a valuable position, the Attorney General was expected to work incredibly hard; although Francis North (1637–1685) was earning £7,000 a year as Attorney General he was pleased to give up the office and become Chief Justice of the Common Pleas because of the smaller workload, despite the heavily reduced pay.[3] The office first took on a political element in 1461, when the holder was summoned by writ to the House of Lords to advise the government on legal matters. This was also the first time that the office was referred to as the office of the "Attorney General".[2] The custom of summoning the Attorney General to the Lords by writ when appointed continues unbroken to this day, although until the appointment of Lord Williams of Mostyn in 1999, no Attorney General had sat in the Lords since 1700, and no Attorney General had obeyed the writ since 1742.[4]

During the sixteenth century the Attorney General was used to pass messages between the House of Lords and House of Commons, although he was viewed suspiciously by the Commons and seen as a tool of the Lords and the King.[4] In 1673 the Attorney General began to take up a seat in the House of Commons, and since then it has been convention to ensure that all Attorneys General are members of the House of Commons or House of Lords, although there is no requirement that they be so.[5] During the constitutional struggle centred on the Royal Declaration of Indulgence in 1672 and 1673 the Attorney General officially became the Crown's representative in legal matters.

In 1890 the ability of an Attorney General to continue practising privately was formally taken away, turning the office-holder into a dedicated representative of the government.[6] Since the beginning of the twentieth century the role of the Attorney General has moved away from representing the Crown and government directly in court, and it has become more of a political and ministerial post, with the Attorney General serving as a legal adviser to both the government as a whole and individual government departments.[7] Despite this change, until the passing of the Homicide Act 1957 the Attorney General was bound to prosecute any and all poisoning cases.[8]

However, in recent times the Attorney General has exceptionally conducted litigation in person before the courts, for instance before the House of Lords in A and Others v Secretary of State for the Home Department,[9] where the legality of the Government's detention of terrorist suspects at Belmarsh was at issue.

Role and duties

The Attorney General is a non-cabinet minister who leads the Attorney General's Office. The rule that no Attorney General may be a cabinet minister is a political convention rather than a law, and for a short time the Attorney General did sit in cabinet,[10] starting with Lord Birkenhead in 1915 and ending with Douglas Hogg in 1928.[11] There is nothing that prohibits Attorneys General from attending meetings of the cabinet, and on occasion they have been asked to attend meetings to advise the government on the best course of action legally[10]; this has occurred on several occasions, most notably, Geoffrey Cox throughout the Brexit negotiations. Despite this it is considered preferable to exclude Attorneys General from cabinet meetings so as to draw a distinct line between them and the political decisions on which they are giving legal advice.[10] As a government minister, the Attorney General is directly answerable to Parliament.[12]

The Attorney General is also the chief legal adviser of the Crown and its government, and has the primary role of advising the government on any legal repercussions of their actions, either orally at meetings or in writing. As well as the government as a whole, he also advises individual departments.[10][13] Although the primary role is no longer one of litigation, the Attorney General still represents the Crown and government in court in some select, particularly important cases, and chooses the Treasury Counsel who handle most government legal cases.[8] By convention, he represents the government in every case in front of the International Court of Justice.[8] The Attorney General also superintends the Crown Prosecution Service and appoints its head, the Director of Public Prosecutions. Decisions to prosecute are taken by the Crown Prosecution Service other than in exceptional cases i.e. where the Attorney General's consent is required by statute or in cases relating to national security.[14] An example of a consent case is the Campbell Case, which led to the fall of the first Labour government in 1924.[15]

The Attorney General also superintends the Government Legal Department and the Serious Fraud Office.[13][16] The Attorney General also has powers to bring "unduly lenient" sentences and points of law to the Court of Appeal, issue writs of nolle prosequi to cancel criminal prosecutions, supervise other prosecuting bodies (such as DEFRA) and advise individual ministers facing legal action as a result of their official actions.[17] He is responsible for making applications to the court restraining vexatious litigants, and may intervene in litigation to represent the interests of charity, or the public interest in certain family law cases.[18] He or she is also officially the leader of the Bar of England and Wales, although this is merely custom and has no duties or rights attached to it.[17] The Attorney General's duties have long been considered strenuous, with Sir Patrick Hastings saying that "to be a law officer is to be in hell".[2] Since the passing of the Law Officers Act 1997, any duties of the Attorney General can be delegated to the Solicitor General for England and Wales, and his or her actions are treated as coming from the Attorney General.[19]

See also


  1. ^ "The Attorney General of England and the Attorney General of the United States" (PDF). Duke University School of Law. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d Jones (1969) p.43
  3. ^ a b Jones (1969) p.45
  4. ^ a b Jones (1969) p.44
  5. ^ Cooley (1958) p.307
  6. ^ Attorney General's Office (2007) p.4
  7. ^ Jones (1969) p.46
  8. ^ a b c Jones (1969) p.48
  9. ^ [2004] UKHL 56
  10. ^ a b c d Jones (1969) p.47
  11. ^ "Oxford DNB article: Hogg, Douglas McGarel (subscription needed)". Oxford University Press. 2004. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
  12. ^ Jones (1969) p.49
  13. ^ a b What does the Attorney General Do?
  14. ^ The Protocol between the Attorney General and the Prosecuting Departments, July 2009 Archived 25 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Jones (1969) p.50
  16. ^ "Attorney General's Office for England and Wales". Attorney General's Office for England and Wales. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
  17. ^ a b Constitutional Affairs Committee. "The Constitutional Role of the Attorney General" (PDF). Government of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Elliott (2008) p.249


External links

1874 Huntingdon by-election

The Huntingdon by-election of 1874 was fought on 16 March 1874. The byelection was fought due to the incumbent Conservative MP, John Burgess Karslake, becoming Attorney General for England and Wales. It was retained by the incumbent, who was unopposed.

1929 Preston by-election

The Preston by-election, 1929 was a parliamentary by-election held in England for the House of Commons constituency of Preston on 31 July 1929. The seat had become vacant when the Liberal Member of Parliament William Jowitt had resigned his seat after changing his party allegiance.

Standing as a Liberal, Jowitt had won one of Preston's two seats at the general election in May 1929, having previously been Liberal MP for The Hartlepools from 1922 to 1924. After his return to the Commons in 1929, he was offered the post of Attorney General for England and Wales in the new Labour Government. He accepted the post, but resigned from parliament and stood for re-election to allow voters to decide whether to accept his change of party.

Jowitt held the seat with an increased majority. The Liberals did not put forward a candidate, being demoralised following Jowitt's defection, and also lacking funds to fight an election. They have not been a force at parliamentary level in Preston since.

Advocate General for Northern Ireland

The Advocate General for Northern Ireland is the chief legal adviser to the British Government on Northern Ireland law and the post is held by the Attorney General for England and Wales by virtue of that office. The Advocate General and the Solicitor General for England and Wales have, in Northern Ireland, the same rights of audience as members of the Bar of Northern Ireland.The Advocate General was created as a separate office upon the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 12 April 2010.Unlike the Advocate General for Scotland, the position is not supported by a distinct government department. Instead, that support is provided by the civil law and Northern Ireland section within the Attorney General's Office at Westminster.The chief legal adviser to the Northern Ireland Executive is the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.

Baron Athenry

Baron Athenry is one of the oldest titles in the Peerage of Ireland, but the date of its creation is thoroughly uncertain; each of the first four Berminghams listed below is claimed by some writers to have been Lord Athenry, but the evidence is disputed. The title appears to have been given to the de Birmingham family of Birmingham, Warks, England as a reward for their help in the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1172. Both Sir William de Birmingham, and his son Robert de Birmingham, are variously claimed to have been involved in the invasion, but it is probable that, after the invasion, William returned to his home in England and left Robert their new lands in Ireland.

Peter Bermingham was fined for not attending Parliament in 1284, and is enrolled as Lord Athenry in the Parliament of 1295. The title Earl of Louth was created in 1319 as a reward to John de Bermingham for his victory over Edward de Bruce in the Battle of Faughart in 1318.

The last Baron was created Earl of Louth in the Peerage of Ireland in 1749, but died in 1799. Since he had three daughters, the Earldom of Louth became extinct at his death; the Barony of Athenry became dormant. Part of the problem has been whether the Barony properly can descend through the female line, in which case it is in abeyance between the heirs of his daughters; or whether it passes through the male line. A descendant of the younger brother of the Richard, Lord Athenry, who died in 1645, claimed the Barony as heir male in 1827, and Thomas Denman, the Attorney General for England and Wales, agreed that he was heir male, but he was not recognized by the House of Lords.

Clifford's Inn

Clifford's Inn is a former Inn of Chancery in London. It was located between Fetter Lane, Clifford's Inn Passage, leading off Fleet Street and Chancery Lane in the City of London. The Inn was founded in 1344 and refounded 15 June 1668. It was dissolved in 1903, and most of its original structure was demolished in 1934. It was both the first Inn of Chancery to be founded and the last to be demolished.

Through the ages, Clifford's Inn was engaged in educating students in jurisprudence, Edward Coke and John Selden being two of its best known alumni. It also accommodated graduates preparing for ordination, such as the novelist Samuel Butler and those studying for other professions. In 1903, the members of Clifford's Inn reached the view that the establishment had outlived its purpose in education, and unanimously voted to dissolve its incorporation. Its remaining funds were donated to the Attorney General for England and Wales.

Since then, Clifford's Inn has housed offices, such as The Senior Courts Costs Office. In apartments above, Virginia Woolf, Sir John Stuttard (679th Lord Mayor) and Sir Ernest Ryder (High Court Judge) have been residents.

Edward Griffin

Ed, Eddie or Edward Griffin may refer to:

Edward Griffin (parson), Irish parson of the Parish of Coolock in the 16th century

Edward Griffin (attorney), Solicitor General and Attorney General for England and Wales, 1545–1559

Sir Edward Griffin (MP) (1603–1670), British MP, 1640–1644, and Treasurer of the Chamber, 1660–1679

Edward Griffin, 1st Baron Griffin of Braybrooke, British Treasurer of the Chamber, 1679–1689

Edward Dorr Griffin (1770–1837), American clergyman and president of Williams College, 1821–1836

G. Edward Griffin (born 1931), American film producer, author, and political lecturer

Ed Griffin, co-wrote the song "Everywhere" for the film A Room for Romeo Brass

Eddie Griffin (born 1968), American actor and comedian

Eddie Griffin (basketball) (1982–2007), American professional basketball player

Eddie Griffin (coach), American wrestling coach at Clemson University and University of Central Oklahoma

Jeremy Wright

Jeremy Paul Wright (born 24 October 1972) is an English Conservative Party politician and lawyer who was Attorney General for England and Wales and Advocate General for Northern Ireland from 2014 to 2018, and has served as Culture Secretary since July 2018. He is Member of Parliament (MP) for Kenilworth and Southam, and from 2005 to 2010 was MP for Rugby and Kenilworth, which was abolished in boundary changes at the 2010 general election.

John Ernley

Sir John Ernley (or Ernle) (1464 – 22 April 1520) was a British justice. He was educated at one of the Inns of Chancery from 1478 to 1480 before being admitted to Gray's Inn. By 1490 he was a particularly conspicuous member of the "Sussex circle" gathered around Edmund Dudley. In his home county of Sussex he maintained a substantial legal practice, serving as feoffee, arbitrator, justice and commissioner, and joining the home assize circuit in 1496 and 1497 as an associate, followed by a position on the county bench in 1498. In the 16th century, he acted as a feoffee for Edmund Dudley, and was appointed Attorney General for England and Wales on 12 July 1507 as a result of his influence with Dudley and, as an extension, Henry VII. He was reappointed when Henry VIII came to power and under him became an important figure in the court. After Sir Robert Rede died in 1519, Ernley was selected to replace him, and was appointed on 27 January of that year. He served for barely a year, dying on 22 April 1520, and was buried in Sidlesham, near Chichester. He left a son and heir, William Erneley, who also served as a Member of Parliament.

Kenilworth and Southam (UK Parliament constituency)

Kenilworth and Southam is a constituency in Warwickshire, England represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament since 2010 by Jeremy Wright, a Conservative who has served as Culture Secretary since 9 July 2018, having previously served as Attorney General for England and Wales from 2014 to 2018.

Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972

The Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972 (c. 22) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that introduced direct rule in Northern Ireland with effect from 30 March 1972.

The Act, which took effect immediately on receiving royal assent, provided as follows:

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was to take over the duties of Northern Ireland's Governor, ministers, and heads of government departments.

The Attorney General for England and Wales was to take over the duties of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.

The Parliament of Northern Ireland was (in effect) indefinitely prorogued, with its legislative powers being made available for exercise by the British Government by Order in Council.The political institutions that were put into abeyance by this Act were formally abolished the following year by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973.

Patricia Scotland

Patricia Janet Scotland, Baroness Scotland of Asthal (born 19 August 1955) is a British politician and barrister who served in ministerial positions within the UK Government, most notably as the Attorney General for England and Wales and Advocate General for Northern Ireland. At the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting she was elected the 6th Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations and took office on 1 April 2016. She is the first woman to hold the post. She is a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and Dominica.

Peter Goldsmith, Baron Goldsmith

Peter Henry Goldsmith, Baron Goldsmith (born 5 January 1950) is a British barrister and a former Attorney General for England and Wales and for Northern Ireland. On 22 June 2007, Goldsmith announced his resignation which took effect on 27 June 2007, the same day that prime minister, Tony Blair, stepped down. Goldsmith was the longest serving Labour Attorney General. He is currently head of European litigation practice at US law firm Debevoise & Plimpton and Vice Chairperson of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre.

R v Attorney General for England and Wales

"R" v Attorney General for England and Wales [2003] UKPC 22 is a New Zealand contract law case, heard by the Privy Council acting as the final court of appeal of New Zealand and not as part of the judiciary of the UK, relating to duress and undue influence.

Robert Sawyer (Attorney General)

Sir Robert Sawyer, of Highclere (1633–1692) was the Attorney General for England and Wales (1681–1687) and, briefly, Speaker of the English House of Commons.

Robert was a younger son of Sir Edmund Sawyer, of Heywood Lodge, at White Waltham, in Berkshire, who was Auditor of the Exchequer. He attended Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he was a contemporary of Samuel Pepys and later became a benefactor of the library there. Upon leaving university, he became a barrister of the Inner Temple and took part in a number of well-known cases. He later became treasurer of Inner Temple.

Sawyer was elected MP for High Wycombe in 1673 and was knighted four years later. He was elected speaker in 1678, but had to resign in under a month because of health problems. Three years later he was made attorney-general. Sir Robert prosecuted members of the Rye House Plot and also Titus Oates. He returned to private practice, and scored a great triumph as defence counsel in the Trial of the Seven Bishops

Sawyer settled at Highclere in Hampshire where he built the house that preceded the present castle. He died on 30 July 1692 and was buried in the old church there.

He married Margaret Suckeley and their daughter Margaret Sawyer married Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke. Their descendants the Earls of Carnarvon eventually inherited Highclere. He also had a son George, and through George's daughter Catherine was ancestor of the Marquess of Anglesey.

Samuel Shepherd

Sir Samuel Shepherd KS PC FRSE (6 April 1760 – 3 November 1840) was a British barrister, judge and politician who served as Attorney General for England and Wales and Lord Chief Baron of the Scottish Court of Exchequer.

Shadow Attorney General for England and Wales

The Shadow Attorney General for England and Wales is an office within British politics held by a member of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. The duty of the office holder is to scrutinise the actions of the Attorney General for England and Wales and develop alternative policies. The office holder is a member of the Shadow Cabinet.

Thomas Clarke (judge)

Sir Thomas Clarke (1703 – 13 November 1764) was a British judge who served as Master of the Rolls. He was the son of a carpenter and a pawnbroker from St Giles in the Fields, and was educated at Westminster School between 1715 and 1721 thanks to the help of Zachary Pearce. On 10 June 1721 he matriculated to Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating with a BA in 1724. He became a fellow of Trinity College in 1727, and a member of Gray's Inn the same year. Clarke was evidently knowledgeable in Roman law, and was mentioned in a poem called the causidicade as a possible Solicitor General in 1742. He became a King's Counsel (KC) in 1740, and in 1742 left Gray's Inn to join Lincoln's Inn, which he became a bencher of in 1754.In 1747 he was elected a Member of Parliament for St Michael's, and in 1754 was returned for Lostwithiel. After the death of the Master of the Rolls, Sir John Strange, Clarke was offered the position. The job was originally offered to William Murray, later Lord Mansfield, but he turned it down. If he had accepted, Clarke might instead have succeeded Murray as Attorney General for England and Wales. Clarke was officially appointed on 25 May 1754, and was knighted at the same time. In June 1754 he was invested as a Privy Councillor (PC). Clarke evidently discharged his duties "with great credit" for ten years, until his death in office on 13 November 1764. He was buried in the Rolls Chapel, now the main library of King's College London.Clarke was a close friend of the Earl of Macclesfield, and this friendship combined with his unclear parentage started rumours that Clark was in fact Macclesfield's son. In his will, Clarke left his Flitcroft-designed home, Branch Hill Lodge, to Macclesfield. Outside politics and law, Clarke was a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), and "devoted himself to philosophical pursuits".

Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927

The Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927 (17 and 18 Geo V c 22) was a British Act of Parliament passed in response to the General Strike of 1926, introduced by the Attorney General for England and Wales, Sir Douglas Hogg MP.

William Babington (justice)

Sir William Babington (c. 1370 – 1454) was an English lawyer and judge hailing from an old Northumbrian noble family.

He was the son of Sir John de Babington and Benedicta Ward.In 1414, Babington was made a King's Attorney (Attorney General for England and Wales). Three years later, an act of parliament compelled him to accept the title of Serjeant-at-law, which he originally refused due to the expensive inauguration ceremony it required. Rising rapidly through government offices, in 1419 he was made Chief Baron of the Exchequer, the head judge of the jurisdiction exercised by the Exchequer of Pleas.

Babington was named a Justice of the Common Bench in 1420. He presided this court as its Chief Justice from 1423 until his retirement in 1436.

In 1426 he received the Order of the Bath.

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