Solicitor-General for Ireland

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Lord Atkinson, Solicitor-General for Ireland from 1890 to 1892

The Solicitor-General for Ireland was the holder of an Irish and then (from the Act of Union 1800) United Kingdom government office. The holder was a deputy to the Attorney-General for Ireland, and advised the Crown on Irish legal matters. On rare occasions, there was also a Deputy Attorney-General, who was distinct from the Solicitor-General.[1] At least two holders of the office, Patrick Barnewall (1534–1550) and Sir Roger Wilbraham (1586-1603), played a leading role in Government, although in Barnewall's case, this may be partly because he, was also King's Serjeant.[2] As with the Solicitor General for England and Wales, the Solicitor-General for Ireland was usually a barrister rather than a solicitor.

The first record of a Solicitor General is in 1511, although the office may be older than that as the records are incomplete; on the other hand, the equivalent English office is a relatively recent creation, dating from 1461. Early Solicitors almost always held the like of Serjeant-at-law. For some forty years in the sixteenth century a Principal Solicitor for Ireland shared the duties of the office: confusingly both were referred to as "the Solicitor". The Principal Solicitor might also be a Serjeant-at-law, as Richard Finglas was.

Elizabeth I thought poorly of most of her Irish-born Law Officers (there were a few exceptions like James Dowdall) and Richard Finglas, and from 1584 onwards there was a practice, which lasted for several decades, of appointing English-born lawyers as Solicitor General. At least one of them, Sir Roger Wilbraham (in office 1586-1603), was a key figure in the Dublin government for many years.

Unlike the Attorney General, the Solicitor was not, as a rule, a member of the Privy Council of Ireland, although he might be summoned by the Council to advise it.[3]

With the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the duties of both the Attorney General and Solicitor General for Ireland were taken over by the Attorney General of Ireland, and the office of Solicitor General was abolished, apparently as an economy measure. This led to complaints for many years about the undue burden of work which was placed on the Attorney General, whose office was seriously understaffed until the 1930s.

Solicitors-General for Ireland (1511–1922)[edit]

16th century[edit]

Sir Roger Wilbraham, Solicitor-General for Ireland 1586-1603

17th century[edit]

Office vacant c.1640-1657

18th century[edit]

19th century[edit]

20th century[edit]

Principal Solicitors for Ireland (1537–1574)[edit]


  1. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 London John Murray 1929 p.220
  2. ^ Hart History of the King's Serjeants-at-law
  3. ^ Delaney, V.T. H. Christopher Palles Allen Figgis and Co Dublin 1960 p.60
  4. ^ Here, and elsewhere, there appear to be gaps caused by the destruction of records- see Smyth Chronicle of the Irish Law Officers (1839)
  5. ^ In the confusion of the English Civil War, Sambach returned to England, and the office of Solicitor-General seems to have simply lapsed
  6. ^ There is considerable confusion as to who held the offices of Solicitor-General and Principal Solicitor during this period. Smyth states that Finglas was Principal Solicitor from 1554 until his death in 1574. Hart gives the same date for Finglas's death but refers to him as Solicitor General.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hart, A.R. History of the King's Serjeants at law in Ireland Four Courts Press Dublin 2000
  • Smyth, Constantine J. (1839). Chronicle of the law officers of Ireland . London: Henry Butterworth.