Catalogue description Records created or inherited by the Law Officers' Department

Details of LO
Reference: LO
Title: Records created or inherited by the Law Officers' Department

Records of the two law officers: the Attorney General and the Solicitor General. Legal opinions and correspondence are in LO 2 and LO 3. Records relating to patent examinations and appeals are in LO 1 and LO 4.

For series created for regularly archived websites, please see the separate Websites Division.

Date: 1839-2012
Related material:

See also the records of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Treasury Solicitor's Department in



Fiats of the Attorney General for entries of nolle prosequi upon indictments, issue of writs of error, etc, addressed to the Queen's Coroner and Attorney are in KB 35

Papers of Sir John Popham, Attorney General from 1581 to 1591, are in PRO 30/34

Those of Hugh McCalmont (later Earl) Cairns who was Solicitor General in 1858 and Attorney General in 1866, are in PRO 30/51

Separated material:

Papers which had accrued in the Law Officers' Department relating to peerage cases have been incorporated into those of the Treasury Solicitor's Department in TS 16

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Attorney General, 1461-

Law Officers' Department, 1944-

Solicitor General, 1461-

Physical description: 10 series
Access conditions: Subject to 30 year closure unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

from 1944 Law Officers' Department

Administrative / biographical background:

Origins and Functions of the Law Officers

Although there were formerly other law officers who acted for the crown, notably HM Advocate General (King's Advocate) an office which lapsed in 1872, the present English law officers are the Attorney General and the Solicitor General. The interchangeability of their functions was given statutory recognition by the Law Officers Act 1944. This removed anomalies introduced by previous legislation which had accorded them distinct powers, particularly in connection with consents to prosecution. The Law Officers' Department was established in 1944 to serve as secretariat for the Attorney General and the Solicitor General.

Until 1880 when the duty passed to the Crown Office, the law officers prepared warrants or king's bills for the issue of letters patent under the great seal. Many of these bills, which were preserved at the Signet Office, related to peerages and to patents for inventions. The law officers' duty to examine patents was a prerogative function made statutory by the Patent Law Amendment Act 1852. It was subsequently transferred to the Comptroller General of Patents by the Patents, Design and Trade Marks Act 1883. The law officers heard appeals against the Comptroller General's decisions until 1932 when jurisdiction was transferred to the Patents Appeal Tribunal.

A major role of the law officers is to advise government departments on important points of law. Cases are submitted by the Treasury Solicitor, the Director of Public Prosecutions and legal branches of government departments. The law officers' response was expressed as a formal 'opinion' until the 1970s, since when the tendency has been for advice to be given in the course of correspondence. Copies of law officers' opinions have been transferred from both the law officers' department and the Treasury Solicitor's Department; originals will be found among the papers of the department seeking advice.

The Attorney General

The office of attorney general originated in that of the King's Attorney and the title was first used in its modern form in 1461. In common with the king's serjeants, and ultimately the Solicitor General, the Attorney General served the crown in three main fields: advocacy in the courts; legal counsel; and service in Parliament.

His or her parliamentary duties include: advice to the Committee for Privileges of the House of Lords in peerage claims and ex officio membership of standing committees; sponsorship of law reform legislation; advice on charity and other bills; and answering for his own department and (prior to 1992) for the Lord Chancellor in the House of Commons. Since April 1992, responsibility for answering for the Lord Chancellor in the House of Commons has been assumed by a new appointment: the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department.

The Attorney General, assisted by the Solicitor General, is the chief legal adviser to the government. He is ultimately responsible for all crown litigation and has wide powers in connection with the enforcement of criminal law. He also advises the crown on grants of charters, licences in mortmain, disposition of charitable bequests that would otherwise fail for want of a beneficiary and legislation of crown dependencies.

The Attorney General's powers and duties in connection with proceedings in the courts are extremely diverse. As an advocate he has appeared in cases of public importance before the English courts, major tribunals and courts of inquiry and international courts, notably the International Court of Justice at The Hague and the War Crimes Trials following the First and Second World Wars. Since 1892 he has been precluded from engaging in private practice. He has the appointment or nomination of crown counsel and is responsible for the superintendence and regulation of the activities of the Director of Public Prosecutions. HM Procurator General also acts under his general direction. There are some eighty offences in which no proceedings may be taken without the consent of the Attorney General acting alone or in association with the Solicitor General, the Director of Public Prosecutions or some other person or persons. He formerly had sole responsibility for authorising appeals in criminal cases to the House of Lords until the introduction of a new procedure under the Administration of Justice Act 1960. Finally, he represents the crown as a party to actions relating to charitable trusts, declarations of legitimacy and of the validity of marriages, and the enforcement of public rights (relator actions).

The Solicitor General

The office of Solicitor General was developed from that of the King's Solicitor which had emerged by 1461 and assumed its present title by 1515 at least. By the sixteenth century the Solicitor General's role as the junior law officer was clear, and he was associated with the Attorney General in parliamentary duties and in giving legal opinions, jointly or separately. He also deputised for the attorney general in periods of absence and indisposition and during vacancies. Today, the Solicitor General acts as the Attorney General's assistant.

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