Difference Between Attorney General and Solicitor General

Attorney General vs Solicitor General
 

At some point in our lives we have all come across the terms Attorney General and Solicitor General, but many of us do not know the difference between Attorney General and Solicitor General. Informally, we associate the terms with two important figures in the legal sphere. Also, we can say the difference between the two is something related to the hierarchy. While this is mostly accurate, a precise definition is necessary. Aside from those in the legal field, the rest of us are not sufficiently acquainted with the role and function of the Attorney General and Solicitor General. However, the Attorney General is more popular term out of the two. Thus, before proceeding to distinguish the two terms it is important to examine their definitions.

Who is an Attorney General?

Dictionaries define the term Attorney General as the chief law officer of a state or government. In simple terms, the Attorney General is the highest ranking lawyer or attorney in a country; he/she is typically a nation’s foremost legal representative and represents the government in legal actions. Keep in mind, however, that the use of the term differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Thus, the role and function of an Attorney General may vary from country to country. Here, we will briefly examine the role of the Attorney General in the United States (U.S.) and United Kingdom (U.K.).

It is important to note that most common law jurisdictions recognize the office of an Attorney General. In the U.S., the Attorney General is also the chief legal adviser to the executive branch of the government. This includes the president, government agencies, departments, and other executive offices. Cases brought against the state or the executive are typically filed in the name of the Attorney General. The Attorney General personally represents the state in legal actions that are of a serious or controversial nature. Furthermore, the person holding office as the Attorney General also serves as the head of the U.S. Department of Justice and a member of the president’s cabinet.

In civil law jurisdictions, the office of the Attorney General is referred to as either a ‘Procurator’ or ‘Advocate General’, although the role of such a person differs from that of an Attorney General. The United Kingdom (U.K.) recognizes the Attorney General as the senior law officer of and chief legal adviser to the Crown. Further, he/she serves as a member of the government and of the House of Commons. It becomes clear, then, that aside from being the chief legal officer in the country representing the interests of the government, the Attorney General, in some jurisdictions, holds important executive responsibilities pertaining to law enforcement and ministerial responsibility for legal matters.

Difference Between Attorney General and Solicitor General

Eric Holder, the current Attorney General of US (2015)

Who is Solicitor General?

The role of a Solicitor General too differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Once again, in most common law jurisdictions, the Solicitor General is typically considered the deputy of the Attorney General or the Assistant to the Attorney General. Thus, in jurisdictions such as the U.S. and U.K., the Solicitor General is the second high-ranking law officer in the country, or rather, the second-in-command after the Attorney General. The Solicitor General too represents the government or state in legal actions. In the U.S., the Solicitor General is commonly associated with representing the government or state in federal courtroom proceedings. This means that the Solicitor General represents the Attorney General in court and argues the case on behalf of the state. The Solicitor General and his/her staff prepare for the case by gathering evidence and drafting arguments.

Further, a Solicitor General in the U.S. is tasked with the duty of deciding which cases must be appealed by the government, concentrating primarily on appeals to the Supreme Court. Generally, the U.S. Solicitor General represents the government in cases heard before the Supreme Court. Thus, he/she typically supervises and conducts litigation involving the government before the Supreme Court. In this regard, the Solicitor General has also been referred to as the ‘Chief Trial Attorney’ of the U.S. Department of Justice or the government. In the U.K., the Solicitor General serves as the second highest law officer of the Crown and functions as the Attorney General’s assistant.

Attorney General vs Solicitor General

Paul Clement, Solicitor General, US (2004 – 2008)

What is the difference between Attorney General and Solicitor General?

Although the Attorney General and the Solicitor General both serve as legal representatives of a state, the distinction lies in the hierarchy or superiority of the two.

• The Attorney General is the chief law officer of the state while the Solicitor General is the Deputy Law officer.

• While legal actions against the state, particularly federal criminal cases, are brought in the name of the Attorney General, it is often the Solicitor General who represents the state before the court.

• The Attorney General serves as the legal adviser to the government and other executive agencies. The Solicitor General has the additional task of deciding which cases must be appealed by the government, concentrating primarily on appeals to the Supreme Court.

 

Images Courtesy: United States Attorney General Eric Holder (2015) and Paul Clement,the 43rd United States Solicitor General via Wikicommons (Public Domain)