ATTORNEY-GENERAL, in England, the chief law officer appointed to manage all the legal affairs and suits in which the crown is interested. He is appointed by letters-patent authorizing him to hold office during the sovereign’s pleasure. He is ex officio the leader of the bar, and only counsel of the highest eminence are appointed to the office. The origin of the office is uncertain, but as far back as 1277 we find an attornatus regis appointed to look after the interests of the crown, in proceedings affecting it before the courts. He has precedence in all the courts, and in the House of Lords he has precedence of the lord advocate, even in Scottish appeals, but unlike the lord advocate and the Irish attorney-general he is not necessarily made a privy councillor. He is a necessary party to all proceedings affecting the crown, and has extensive powers of control in matters relating to charities, lunatics’ estates, criminal prosecutions, &c. The attorney-general and the solicitor-general are always members of the House of Commons (except for temporary difficulties in obtaining a seat) and of the ministry, being selected from the party in power, and their advice is at the disposal of the government and of each department of the government, while in the House of Commons they defend the legality of ministerial action if called in question. Previously to 1895 there was no restriction placed on the law officers as to their acceptance of private practice, but since that date this privilege has been withdrawn, and the salary of the attorney-general is fixed at £7000 a year and in addition such fees according to the ordinary professional scales as he may receive for any litigious business he may conduct on behalf of the crown. The crown has also as a legal adviser an attorney-general in Ireland. In Scotland he is called lord advocate (q.v.). There is also an attorney-general in almost all the British colonies, and his duties are very similar to those of the same officer in England. In the self-governing colonies he is appointed by the administration of the colony, and in the crown colonies by royal warrant under the signet and sign-manual. There is an attorney-general for the duchy of Cornwall and also one for the duchy of Lancaster, each of whom sues in matters relating to that duchy.
The United States has an officer of this name, who has a seat in the cabinet. His duties are in general to represent the federal government before the United States Supreme Court, to advise the president on questions of law, and to advise similarly the heads of the state departments with reference to matters affecting their department. His opinions are published by the government periodically for the use of its officials and they are frequently cited by the courts. Every state but one or two has a similar officer. He represents the state in important legal matters, and is often required to assist the local prosecutor in trials for capital offences. He appears for the public interest in suits affecting public charities. He is generally elected by the people for the same term as the governor and on the same ticket.