Legal Dictionary

attorney general

Legal Definition of attorney general


  1. Chief legal officer in some countries

Definition of attorney general


attorney general (plural attorneys general) (often spelled without hyphen)

  1. A major government officer throughout the English-speaking world, generally responsible for interpreting the law for the head-of-government and executive departments, and functionally as chief prosecutor for his jurisdiction, with the ability to bring civil and criminal actions directly.

    Janet Reno was Attorney General under Bill Clinton.

Further reading

In most common law jurisdictions, the attorney general, or attorney-general, is the main legal advisor to the government, and in some jurisdictions he or she may in addition have executive responsibility for law enforcement or responsibility for public prosecutions.


The term has traditionally been used to refer to any person who holds a general power of attorney to represent a principal in all matters. In the common law tradition, anyone who represents the state, especially in criminal prosecutions, is such an attorney. Although a government may designate some official as the permanent attorney general, anyone who comes to represent the state in the same way, even if only for a particular case, is an attorney general, and when that is a private individual, he may be distinguished from the permanent official as being a private or pro tempore attorney general. Although most nations primarily use full-time professional prosecutors in criminal cases, this is a fairly recent development, emerging in the latter half of the 19th century. Until the advent of public prosecutors (in the United States commonly called district attorneys at the district or county level), criminal prosecutions were conducted by private persons, usually lawyers, who would be appointed attorney general by receiving a bill of indictment from a grand jury. Today private criminal prosecutions are discouraged by judges, but the practice survives in the use of "special prosecutors" or "independent counsel" created by special legislation.)

This usage can also be seen in the title "secretary general", for a secretary, or executive official, with general authority, normally the chief executive of a hierarchy of executive officials.


Some people think the word "general" used in that way entitles the official to the honorific "general", but this is strictly only appropriate for military generals. The word "general" in "attorney general" is an adjective modifying "attorney". The plural of "attorney general" is "attorneys general." The history of the term dates back to Norman England when many of the French legal terms were imported into English common law. In French, the adjective often comes after the noun and so Attorney General meant General Attorney.

Offices by country (Malaysia)

In Malaysia the Attorney-General or >Peguam Negara (as he is referred to in Bahasa Malaysia) is the principal legal adviser to the Government. He is also the principal public prosecutor in the country, and is also known as the Public Prosecutor. He has the power, exercisable at his discretion, to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for an offence, other than proceedings before a Syariah court, a native court or a court-martial.


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Translation of attorney general in Malay


  1. peguam negara


1.     landed property
2.     lex fori
3.     status quo
4.     ownership
5.     lex loci delicti commissi
6.     lex situs
7.     sodomy
8.     lex causae
9.     unjustified
10.     AORO