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James Mackay, Baron Mackay of Clashfern

James Peter Hymers Mackay, Baron Mackay of Clashfern, KT, PC (born 2 July 1927)[1] is a British advocate. He served as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, Lord Advocate, and Lord Chancellor (1987–1997). He is an active member of the House of Lords where he sits as a Conservative.

The Lord Mackay of Clashfern

Official portrait of Lord Mackay of Clashfern crop 2.jpg
Lord Clerk Register
Assumed office
27 April 2007
MonarchElizabeth II
Preceded byThe Earl of Wemyss
Shadow Lord Chancellor
In office
2 May 1997 – 11 June 1997
LeaderJohn Major
Preceded byThe Lord Irvine of Lairg
Succeeded byThe Lord Kingsland
Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
In office
28 October 1987 – 2 May 1997
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
John Major
Preceded byThe Lord Havers
Succeeded byThe Lord Irvine of Lairg
Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
In office
1 October 1985 – 28 October 1987
Preceded byThe Lord Fraser of Tullybelton
Succeeded byThe Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle
Lord Advocate
In office
5 May 1979 – 16 May 1984
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byRonald King Murray
Succeeded byThe Lord Cameron of Lochbroom
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
Assumed office
6 July 1979
Life Peerage
Personal details
Born (1927-07-02) 2 July 1927 (age 92)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Political partyConservative
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh
Trinity College, Cambridge

Early life and educationEdit

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]

Mackay giving a public lecture at LSE in 1989

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] 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 forbids its members to attend 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 from the eldership and from membership.[1] The synod met again in Glasgow in 1989 to review the decision; the 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, initially join the new communion, but now worships with their Inverness congregation.[3]

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

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 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]

Honours and stylesEdit


Styles of
The Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Reference styleHis Lordship
Spoken styleYour Lordship
Alternative styleSir

Mackay was appointed a Knight of the Thistle by the Queen Elizabeth II on 27 November 1997.[10] In 2007 the Queen appointed Lord Mackay to the office of Lord Clerk Register, replacing David Charteris, 12th Earl of Wemyss.[11] Mackay became a Fellow of The Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1984.[12] In 1989, Mackay was elected Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.[13] Mackay also received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 1990 [14] He was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Laws) by the University of Bath in 1994[15] and by Northumbria University in 2017.[16]

Styles of addressEdit

  • 1927–1965: Mr James Mackay
  • 1965–1979: Mr James Mackay QC
  • 1979–1997: The Rt Hon The Lord Mackay of Clashfern PC QC
  • 1997–: The Rt Hon The Lord Mackay of Clashfern KT PC QC
Coat of arms of James Mackay, Baron Mackay of Clashfern
A Dexter Arm couped at the Elbow proper the hand grasping a Pair of Balances Or
Azure on a Chevron Argent between two Bears' Heads couped Argent muzzled Gules in chief and a Fleece Argent in base a Roebuck's Head erased between two Hands grasping Daggers the points turned towards the buck's head all proper
Dexter: a Male Figure attired in the Robes of the Lord High Chancellor; Sinister: a Male Figure attired in the Robes of one of Her Majesty's Counsel learned in the Law in Scotland proper
Manu Justi (With the hand of a just man) [17]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k 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. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  2. ^ "James Mackay, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, b. 1927. Judge and Lord Chancellor". National Galleries of Scotland.
  3. ^ a b c d 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. ^ Jenny McCartney (18 May 2008). "How little Leo Blair was conceived is definitely too much information". Telegraph. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  8. ^ a b "Bibles for the courts". Scottish Bible Society. July 2010. Archived from the original on 29 August 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. Archived from the original on 23 July 2012.
  10. ^ "No. 24306". The Edinburgh Gazette. 28 November 1997. p. 3025.
  11. ^ "Lord Clerk Register appointed". Scottish Executive.
  12. ^ "Lord James Peter Hymers Mackay of Clashfern KT PC QC FRSE - The Royal Society of Edinburgh". The Royal Society of Edinburgh. Retrieved 4 January 2018.
  13. ^ "Trinity College, Cambridge – Honorary Fellows". Trinity College, Cambridge. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  14. ^ "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh: Honorary Graduates". Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  15. ^ "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". University of Bath. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  16. ^
  17. ^

External linksEdit

Legal offices
Preceded by
Ronald Murray
Lord Advocate
Succeeded by
The Lord Cameron of Lochbroom
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Havers
Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
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