This paper provides an overview of the constitutional status and functions of the law officers of the United Kingdom. This includes the law officers of the UK Government and those that advise the three devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

What are law officers?

Law officers are senior legal advisors to the UK Government, Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive.

Who are the law officers?

The UK Government has four distinct law officer posts, of which two are held concurrently. These are the:

  • Attorney General for England and Wales (AGEW)
  • Solicitor General for England and Wales (SGEW)
  • Advocate General for Scotland (AGS)
  • Advocate General for Northern Ireland (AGNI-UK)[1]

The Scottish Govenrment has two law officers, the Lord Advocate (LA) and the Solicitor General for Scotland (SGS).

The Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive each have one law officer, the Counsel General for Wales (CGW) and the Attorney General for Northern Ireland (AGNI) respectively.

What do law officers do?

Law officers’ functions vary significantly and depend on the historical and constitutional context of their posts. They typically carry out a range of advisory, litigatory and executive functions, including:

  • oversight of (the relevant) jurisdiction’s prosecution services;
  • oversight of other government legal services;
  • representing the relevant government or executive in litigation;
  • specific statutory powers and duties, especially in relation to the devolution settlements;
  • advising Cabinet and individual Ministers on legal matters; and/or
  • advising the relevant legislature or the Monarch on legal matters.

Are law officers independent?

The nature of the work that law officers do is different from other Ministers. With the exception of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, there is no legal bar to a law officer being a parliamentarian or otherwise politically active. However, some of their work calls for a degree of independence or separation from Government and party politics.

[1]    This post is held concurrently with that of Attorney General for England and Wales