James Mackay, Baron Mackay of Clashfern

The Right Honourable
The Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Lord Clerk Register
Assumed office
27 April 2007
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by The Earl of Wemyss
Shadow Lord Chancellor
In office
2 May 1997  11 June 1997
Leader John Major
Preceded by The Lord Irvine of Lairg
Succeeded by The Lord Kingsland
Lord Chancellor
In office
28 October 1987  2 May 1997
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
John Major
Preceded by The Lord Havers
Succeeded by The Lord Irvine of Lairg
Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
In office
1 October 1985  28 October 1987
Preceded by The Lord Fraser of Tullybelton
Succeeded by The Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle
Lord Advocate
In office
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Ronald King Murray
Succeeded by Lord Cameron of Lochbroom
Member of the House of Lords
Assumed office
6 July 1979
Personal details
Born (1927-07-02) 2 July 1927
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Political party Conservative
Alma mater University of Edinburgh
Trinity College, Cambridge

James Peter Hymers Mackay, Baron Mackay of Clashfern, KT, PC, QC (born 2 July 1927)[1] is a British advocate. He served as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, Lord Advocate, and Lord Chancellor (19871997). He is an active member of the House of Lords where he sits as a Conservative.

Early life and education

Mackay was born in Edinburgh, the son of railway signalman James Mackay (who came from Claisfearn near Tarbet in Sutherland) and his wife Janet Hymers.[1] He won a scholarship to George Heriot's School,[2] and then studied mathematics and physics at the University of Edinburgh, receiving a joint MA in 1948.[1] He taught mathematics for two years at the University of St Andrews before moving to Trinity College, Cambridge on a scholarship, from which he obtained a BA in mathematics in 1952.[1]

He then returned to Edinburgh University where he studied law, receiving an LLB (with distinction) in 1955.[1]


Mackay was elected to the Faculty of Advocates in 1955. He was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1965.[1] He was Sheriff Principal for Renfrew and Argyll from 1972 to 1974.[1] In 1973 he became Vice-Dean of the Faculty on Advocates and from 1976 until 1979 served as its Dean, the leader of the Scots bar.[1]

In 1979, Mackay was appointed Lord Advocate, the senior law officer in Scotland, and was created a life peer as Baron Mackay of Clashfern, of Eddrachillis in the District of Sutherland, taking his territorial designation from his father's birthplace, a cottage beside Loch na Claise Fearna.[3] Although an eminent lawyer in his own right (and leader of the Scots bar), Mackay was not a member of the newly elected Conservative Party. Convention was that governments appointed as Lord Advocate a QC of their own party. At the time the only eligible Conservative Scottish QC was Nicholas Fairbairn, a colourful and sometimes controversial figure. At the suggestion of Lord Emslie, Lord President of the Court of Session, incoming Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher appointed Mackay Lord Advocate, with Fairbairn taking the second-ranking position of Solicitor-General for Scotland. Mackay joined the Conservative Party on taking up the office.

A tree planted in the grounds of the National Law School of India University in Bangalore by Lord Mackay

In anticipation of the retirement of Lord Fraser of Tullybelton as one of the two Scots Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, Mackay took an appointment as a judge of the Court of Session in 1984. He served until he was promoted to the appellate committee of the House of Lords in 1985 when Fraser stepped down.

In 1987 Margaret Thatcher made Mackay Lord Chancellor. When she resigned in 1990, it was Mackay who read the Cabinet's tribute to her at her last cabinet meeting. He was reappointed by Thatcher's successor John Major, serving until the 1997 general election. On his retirement he was one of the longest serving Lord Chancellors.

Since his retirement, Mackay has sat in the House of Lords and was Commissary to the University of Cambridge until 2016. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Halsbury's Laws of England, the major legal work which states the law of England, first published in 1907; the post is usually held by a former Lord Chancellor.[4] He is also a Senior Fellow of The Trinity Forum, a Christian nonprofit that supports the renewal of society through the development of leaders.


Mackay was raised a member of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland; as an adult he was an elder of the church.[1] The church enjoins its members from attending Roman Catholic religious services; nevertheless Mackay attended two Catholic funeral masses for members of the judiciary (for Charles Ritchie Russell in 1986,[3] and again for John Wheatley in 1988).[1] Following the second mass Mackay was called before a church synod where he denied that he had broken the church's prohibition of showing "support for the doctrine of Roman Catholicism", saying "I went there purely with the purpose of paying my respects to my dead colleagues."[5] The church suspended Mackay as an elder and withdrew his right to take Holy Communion.[1] The synod met again in Glasgow in 1989 to review the decision; the fractious meeting asked Mackay to undertake not to attend further Catholic services, but he announced "I have no intention of giving any such undertaking as that for which the synod has asked",[6] and later withdrew from the church. The dispute precipitated a schism, leading to the formation of the Associated Presbyterian Church. Mackay did not, however, join the new communion, but worships at both its parishes and those of the Church of Scotland.[3]

As a Presbyterian, Mackay was a firm believer in moderation. At a gathering for the Faculty of Advocates, Mackay had laid on a spread of tea and toast, complete with a tiny pot of honey. One of the lawyers in attendance contemplated the pot and remarked, "I see your Lordship keeps a bee."[7]

Mackay was Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 2005 and 2006.

Mackay is also the Honorary President of the Scottish Bible Society.[8] He supported the society's programme to send a bible to every court in Scotland[8] and wrote in support of "The Bible in Scots Law", a pamphlet it distributed to Scottish lawyers which described the Bible as a "foundational source book for Scotland's legal system".[9] He is a strict sabbatarian, refusing to work or travel on a Sunday, or even to give an interview if there is a chance it could be rebroadcast on the sabbath.[3]


Mackay was appointed a Knight of the Thistle by the Queen Elizabeth II in 1999. In 2007 that the Queen appointed Lord Mackay to the office of Lord Clerk Register,replacing David Charteris, 12th Earl of Wemyss.[10]

In 1989, Mackay was elected Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.[11]

Mackay also received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 1990 [12]

At the University of Aberdeen, the main halls in the King's College Conference Centre is named the James Mackay Hall, in honour of him.

In 1994, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Laws) by the University of Bath.[13]

Titles and styles

Styles of
The Baron Mackay of Clashfern
Reference style His Lordship
Spoken style Your Lordship
Alternative style Sir


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 J J O'Connor and E F Robertson (April 2006). "James Peter Hymers Mackay". The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive. School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews.
  2. "James Mackay, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, b. 1927. Judge and Lord Chancellor". National Galleries of Scotland.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Cal McCrystal (12 December 1993). "Profile: Never on a Sunday: The Lord Chancellor is a tireless legal reformer, but only six days a week". The Independent.
  4. "Halsbury's Laws : History". LexisNexis.
  5. "British Lord Goes to Funerals, Loses Church Post". Associated Press (Los Angeles Times). 6 November 1988. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  6. "British official quits church over its curbs". Toledo Blade. 28 May 1989. p. 5.
  7. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/jennymccartney/3558477/How-little-Leo-Blair-was-conceived-is-definitely-too-much-information.html
  8. 1 2 "Bibles for the courts". Scottish Bible Society. July 2010.
  9. Hector L MacQueen and Scott Wortley (22 August 2010). "The Bible in Scots law". Scots Law News. School of Law, University of Edinburgh.
  10. "Lord Clerk Register appointed". Scottish Executive.
  11. "Trinity College, Cambridge – Honorary Fellows". Trinity College, Cambridge. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  12. webperson@hw.ac.uk. "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh: Honorary Graduates". www1.hw.ac.uk. Retrieved 2016-04-04.
  13. "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". bath.ac.uk. University of Bath. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
Legal offices
Preceded by
Ronald Murray
Lord Advocate
Succeeded by
The Lord Cameron of Lochbroom
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Havers
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
The Lord Irvine of Lairg
Preceded by
The Lord Irvine of Lairg
Shadow Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
The Lord Kingsland
Preceded by
The Earl of Wemyss
Lord Clerk Register
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