Dalhousie Law Journal


J. Murray Beck


Nova Scotia, Attorney General, Rise, Fall, performance, variety of factors, political regime, representative government, responsible government, federal government


The performance of Nova Scotia's thirty-seven attorneys general in the 234 years between 1749 and 1983 has been influenced by a variety of factors. In part, it has been dependent on the kind of political regime they helped to work: representative government up to 1848; responsible government in a single province between 1848 and 1867; and federal government since 1867. But it has been strongly affected, too, by the training, character, and attitudes of the attorneys general themselves; so, while the office has undoubtedly done much to mould the man, the reverse has been no less true, especially before 1900. Actually the office of attorney general of Nova Scotia still rests on the prerogative instruments issued to its pre-Confederation governors and lieutenant governors, even though those documents do not specifically mention the office by name. The commission to Governor Edward Cornwallis, whose founding of Halifax in 1749 signified the real beginning of English Nova Scotia, authorized him to appoint the "necessary officers and ministers in our said Province for the better administration of Justice and putting the Laws in execution."' Number 67 of his Instructions enjoined him to take care that his appointees "be Men of good Life and well affected to our Government and of good Estates and Abilities and not necessitous Persons. 2 Perhaps Cornwallis did not take sufficient care, for within four years Otis Little, his appointee as king's attorney, was dismissed for misconduct and left the province shortly afterwards as an absconding debtor.