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Attorney General - The Legal Advisor
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Attorney General  -  The Legal Advisor

By the most general principles of jurisprudence,the attorney general is considered the main legal advisor to the government, and in some jurisdictions, he may also have additional executive responsibility for law enforcement or responsibility for public prosecutions.

The attorney general’s main role is best depicted as the chief appointee of the state to represent the state in the legal proceedings, mostly in the criminal lawsuits where national security is also a major concern. In some countries, he is also the chief Public Prosecutor per se, and his designation is also defined in that way. Perhaps Canada is the best example where the attorney general is actually treated as a bona fide cabinet minister and is known as the “guardian of the public interest”. Australia prescribe their own formulation that the AG’s mission would be to achieve a just and secure society.

The AG cannot and should not be a political recruit, which means he is answerable not to any prevalent idiosyncrasy as such but to the mainstay of democracy, the judiciary. In India, the AG is essentially a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, and is thus adequately insulated from the stakes of the classes assuming power.

Now, the point often boils down to impossibility, more so in countries like India, US, where the general pluralistic character of the society at large makes it impossible to define what the ‘Public Interest’ is in the first place. In a recent development in India, something similar happened. It was reported in the media that some of the telecom operators, mostly some foreign companies, have obtained their 2 G operating license resorting to unfair means.

The license fees for them and the fees generally charged for the spectrum and bandwidth were lowered or waived ridiculously, as the government agencies realized later on, and the related financial irregularities were all bundled together as a scam, commonly known as the 2 G scam. People, or a certain section of them, demanded that the license given at such throw away prices should be revoked immediately, and the companies should be asked to reinvest with proper fees and permits in order to carry out their business in India. It was also reported that the Department of Telecommunication has asked the Attorney General to shoot his opinion about the matters that whether “cancellation of 2 G licences by the Supreme Court order can be challenged under various bilateral treaties” and whether such foreign investors would possibly claim damages under bilateral investment protection treaties, as reported by Times of India.

Now here comes the specific role and the dilemma of the AG. There are issues that definitely belong to his domain, and even though the apex court has already given a verdict in order to protect the public (government) fund to be obtained from the spectrum usage license fees etc., there is also a large chunk of the public, the end-users who were actually benefitted by the cut throat competition between the huge number of operators in the same market. If these new players disappear one fine morning, it would be easier for the older players claiming back their share of the monopoly. Who are the public that the “guardian of the public interest” should protect?

There is no direct answer to the question above. And of course, the AG, India didn’t provide any, too. The attorney general being the chief law officer on behalf of the government, whichever country, and the chief representative of the State is obliged to defend the government in the first place, no matter whether his stand becomes popular or not. This is the same reason that President Obama’s AG, Mr. Eric Holder, also has to defend an apparent politically not so correct comment made by the president. His dilemma was obvious in the interview with the FOX news and other major channels. Albeit the Attorney General’s appointment is never political, and his responsibility is to restrain the government from all mis judgement of the constitution, the dilemma is there perennially as a part of his job, that which ‘public’ he is supposed to protect.


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