The functions of the Treasury Solicitor's Department have primarily concerned the revenue of government, as is still reflected in its financial responsibilities in connection with the law charges of the government and its legal officers, and the accounting of funds secured through Crown legal proceedings. The Department also provides litigation and conveyancing services for many government departments, and normally briefs the law officers when they appear for the Crown in civil proceedings and peerage cases.
Historically, the office of Treasury Solicitor dates from at least 1655, when the holder was a professional solicitor and was allowed to maintain a private practice. Since 1806 he has been a barrister, precluded from private practice. Before 1794 there were joint solicitors but one of the posts was a sinecure. The office of Assistant Solicitor was created in 1746 in consequence of the number of state trials then in progress and further appointments of assistant solicitors have been made since to take charge of certain sections of the work of the Treasury Solicitor's departments.
The duties of the Treasury Solicitor (or Solicitor of the Exchequer as formerly designated) as defined in a commission of February 1661 were to attend the King's counsel in all revenue cases in the Exchequer and to expedite all such proceedings; to inspect the offices in the Exchequer; and also to make strict enquiry into all warrants which, if granted, would diminish the revenues.
In 1685, the Treasury Solicitor's functions were extended to the conduct of political and censorship prosecutions as agent for the Crown. This continued until 1696, and was revived from 1884 to 1908 when the office was combined with that of public prosecutor and the Treasury Solicitor became responsible for conducting most criminal prosecutions on behalf of government departments including the Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions from 1879 to 1884 when the two departments were combined.
A Criminal Law Branch was formed under the direction of an Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions. In 1908 a separate Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions was again set up and to it were transferred most criminal prosecutions previously undertaken by the joint department, including coinage (from 1849) and bankruptcy (from 1876) prosecutions.
Since 1841, the Treasury Solicitor has been appointed solicitor and legal adviser to other government departments. Work undertaken for these departments was administered through the Treasury Solicitor's Department branches, each dealing with the legal work of a specific government department. Branches were created and developed in accordance with changes in the departments they served. The Treasury Solicitor has also undertaken work from within client departments.
From 1889 the Treasury Solicitor became responsible for legitimacy declarations as representative of the Attorney General; in 1899 he took over duties formerly performed by the solicitor to the Charity Commissioners, and the Attorney General in relation to charity cases. By the Treasury Solicitor Act 1876 he was constituted a corporation sole with power to hold real and personal property and to sue and be sued.
At the same time he became nominee for the Crown for the administration of bona vacantia (the administration of estates of persons dying intestate and without known kin, and dissolved companies and failed trusts). He had already undertaken work in connection with such estates on behalf of HM Procurator General, and since 1876 the two posts have been held in conjunction.
In 1975, the department became titled the Treasury Solicitor's Department. From 1 April 1991 most of the department's activities were placed on a repayment basis, and the department has been required to cover its full costs by billing other government departments. On 1 April 1996 the department became an executive agency with HM Procurator General and Treasury Solicitor as its Chief Executive.
HM Procurator General
From 1672 the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Court of Arches, Consistory Court of the Bishop of London and the Court of Admiralty held session in the Hall of the College of Advocates in Doctors' Commons; members of the College, served by the proctors, had exclusive right of hearing in these courts.
The increasing specialisation in ecclesiastical and maritime law which had culminated in such an arrangement and in the establishment of the offices of Advocate General, and King's or Queen's Proctor (full title HM Procurator General), was due to the predominantly roman character of both these branches of the law, as opposed to common law and equity whose courses of development had been mainly indigenous to Britain.
By the Court of Probate Act of 1857, the jurisdiction of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury was abolished, and the College of Advocates was empowered to surrender its charter which it therefore did, although the office of Queen's Proctor continued. Practice in the new Court of Probate and in the Court of Admiralty, both of which were moved to Westminster, was now therefore open to common law practitioners.
The office of HM Procurator General or Queen's Proctor, is therefore an ancient one. The holder was formerly a civil lawyer practising as Procurator General for the sovereign in the Court of Arches, the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, the High Court of Admiralty and before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. He was charged, under the general direction of HM Advocate General, with duties in maritime, ecclesiastical and international law, similar to the Treasury Solicitor's duties in common law and equity.
In 1857 the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts in divorce was transferred to a newly constituted Divorce Court, and since the passing of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1860, the Queen's Proctor has been vested with special functions in matrimonial causes.
In 1872, the office of HM Advocate General lapsed and responsibility for giving the Procurator General legal opinion or direction passed to the Attorney General.
By 1876 the work of the Queen's Proctor was mainly concerned with the administration of personal estates of intestates, escheats, forfeiture of real estate, legitimacy declarations, prosecutions under the Foreign Enlistment Act 1870, and, in time of war, prize cases. He also had certain powers of intervention in divorce cases.
The main business of HM Procurator General now concerns matrimonial suits, which are now set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1965. He is also responsible for Crown applications and acts on behalf the Admiralty Marshal in connection with the arrest and detention of vessels under court orders. He has responsibility for all prize proceedings in the United Kingdom, and advice is sought by prize or maritime courts overseas and any organisation established in this country to conduct economic warfare.
During the First World War a special Prize Department (1914-1921) existed to take charge of such work. In the Second World War a member of the Procurator General's staff was seconded to the Ministry of Economic Warfare.
The Procurator General has had other responsibilities in the field of international law, notably in connection with war crimes trials following the two World Wars, and it has been his duty to brief the Attorney General in cases before such international courts. Most peacetime work has been carried out in the Queen's Proctor Division of the department under the direction of an Assistant Queen's Proctor.