A legal Officer of the Crown, appointed to plead the monarch's cause, to give guidance to the monarch's representatives, to advise the Royal Court on points of law, and to prosecute offenders. He has a seat in the States of Jersey, and may speak, but not vote. He is legal adviser to the States of Jersey.
Today the Attorney-General has a deputy, the Solicitor-General, who usually, but not inevitably, will be promoted to Attorney-General on the death, retirement or, usually, promotion of the Attorney-General, who again, usually but not inevitably, will succeed the Deputy Bailiff.
History of role
References to Jersey’s Law Officers can be traced back to at least the mid-14th century, from which time records relating to the King’s Procureur (Attorney-General today) and the King’s Advocate (Solicitor-General) can be found.
They were appointed by the Crown although, as with the Bailiff, it appears that for some time they were appointed by the Island’s Governor until the principle of appointment by the Crown was confirmed in 1615
As the early titles might suggest, the Law Officers were effectively the ‘King’s Men’ appointed to ‘plead the king’s pleas’. They were responsible for bringing cases to the Royal Court and thereby became responsible for criminal prosecutions. They became members of the Royal Court, although they had no decision¬ making powers.
In order to be able to defend the interests of the Crown they had the right of addressing the Court and moving conclusions on the various matters within their responsibility.
It seems probable that as members of the Royal Court, the Law Officers became members of the States, in the same way as the Bailiff and Jurats came to consult the Constables and the Rectors.
The Law Officers had the right to address the States, but not to take part in the decision-making, and had no right to vote. Their right to speak was confirmed by an Order in Council of 1824 and provision to that effect has been included in various Laws of the States of Jersey in recent times.
Although members of the States, the Law Officers remained representatives of the Crown, and were the Crown’s legal advisers. They were expected to advise the Crown on legislation passed by the States and protect the Crown’s interests in the Assembly. They also provide legal advice to the States and at times represent the public interest within the Assembly, but these are not their primary function.
With the establishment of the Petty Debts Court and the Magistrate’s Court, the Law Officers lost some of their exclusive right to bring prosecutions, as cases in the Magistrate’s Court were presented by the Constable or a Centenier of the relevant parish. It was later confirmed, however, that this did not derogate from the Attorney-General’s right to institute proceedings in the Royal Court and he (for there has never been a female holder of this office, although there was one female Solicitor-General in the late 20th century) is able to direct a Centenier as to whether a case should be instituted or discontinued.
The Attorney General thus came to have the direction of those members of the Honorary Police with responsibilities in the Magistrate’s Court. It is not clear, however, whether this led to his being styled the titular head of the Honorary Police, and the origin of that position remains somewhat obscure.
It was not until the early years of the 20th century that the Law Officers’ advisory role increased from merely advising the Crown to advising the States as well. The situation had arisen whereby negative reports could be given to the Crown, through the Lieutenant Governor, on legislation approved by the States, which necessitated the legislation being brought back to the States for further work.
By an enactment of the States in 1930, the Law Officers became advisers to the States in the fullest sense, and from then on they were involved in providing legal advice at all stages of legislation, from the formulation of underlying policy to the debate in the States Assembly. Prior to that time, the States were able to engage the Law Officers, but would have been required to pay them a fee for any such work undertaken
The Attorney General is still effectively expected to advise the Crown, even against the interests of the States. If there is a conflict and both Crown and States require advice, the convention is that the Attorney-General advises the Crown and his subordinate, the Solicitor-General, advises the States.
In Guernsey the position is still known as Her Majesty's Procureur.