The Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Official portrait of Lord Mackay of Clashfern crop 2.jpg
Official portrait, 2018
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
11 July 1979
Life Peerage
Personal details
Born (1927-07-02) 2 July 1927 (age 95)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Political partyConservative
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Hymers (m. 1958)
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh
Trinity College, Cambridge

James Peter Hymers Mackay, Baron Mackay of Clashfern, KT, PC, QC, FRSE (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, but has announced his intention to retire with effect on 22 July 2022.[2]

Early life and education

Mackay was born in Edinburgh on 2 July 1927. He won a scholarship to George Heriot's School,[3] 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
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.[4] 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.[5] He is also a Senior Fellow of The Trinity Forum, a Christian nonprofit that supports the renewal of society through the development of leaders.

Family and religion

Mackay is the son of railway signalman James Mackay (who came from Claisfearn near Tarbet in Sutherland) and his wife Janet Hymers.[1] Mackay married Elizabeth Gunn Hymers, of Halkirk, in 1958. They have a son, James and two daughters, Elizabeth and Shona.[6] 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 Catholic religious services; nevertheless Mackay attended two Catholic funeral masses for members of the judiciary (for Charles Ritchie Russell in 1986,[4] 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 Catholicism", saying "I went there purely with the purpose of paying my respects to my dead colleagues."[7] 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",[8] 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.[4]

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

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."[9] Mackay is also the Honorary President of the Scottish Bible Society.[10] He supported the society's programme to send a Bible to every court in Scotland[10] 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".[11] 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.[4]

Honours and arms

Styles of
The Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Clan member crest badge - Clan Mackay.svg
Reference styleHis Lordship
Spoken styleYour Lordship
Alternative styleSir

Mackay was appointed a Knight of the Thistle by Queen Elizabeth II on 27 November 1997.[12] In 2007 the Queen appointed Lord Mackay to the office of Lord Clerk Register, replacing David Charteris, 12th Earl of Wemyss.[13] Mackay became a Fellow of The Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1984.[14] In 1989, Mackay was elected Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.[15] Mackay also received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 1990.[16] He was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Laws) by the University of Bath in 1994[17] and by Northumbria University in 2017.[18]

Coat of arms of James Mackay, Baron Mackay of Clashfern
Coronet of a British Baron.svg
Mackay of Clashfern Escutcheon.png
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)[19]


  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.
  2. ^ "Retirement of One Member (Retirement List)". UK Parliament. Retrieved 4 July 2022.
  3. ^ "James Mackay, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, b. 1927. Judge and Lord Chancellor". National Galleries of Scotland.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Halsbury's Laws : History". LexisNexis.
  6. ^ "Lady Mackay flown to hospital after breaking leg hillwalking".
  7. ^ "British Lord Goes to Funerals, Loses Church Post". Associated Press (Los Angeles Times). 6 November 1988. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  8. ^ "British official quits church over its curbs". Toledo Blade. 28 May 1989. p. 5.
  9. ^ Jenny McCartney (18 May 2008). "How little Leo Blair was conceived is definitely too much information". The Telegraph. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  10. ^ a b "Bibles for the courts". Scottish Bible Society. July 2010. Archived from the original on 29 August 2010.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "No. 24306". The Edinburgh Gazette. 28 November 1997. p. 3025.
  13. ^ "Lord Clerk Register appointed". Scottish Executive.
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ "Trinity College, Cambridge – Honorary Fellows". Trinity College, Cambridge. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  16. ^ "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh: Honorary Graduates". Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  17. ^ "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". University of Bath. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  18. ^ "Former Lord Chancellor honoured by Northumbria University". Mynewsdesk.
  19. ^ Debrett's Peerage. 2019. p. 3500.
Legal offices Preceded byRonald Murray Lord Advocate 1979–1984 Succeeded byThe Lord Cameron of Lochbroom Political offices Preceded byThe Lord Havers Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain 1987–1997 Succeeded byThe Lord Irvine of Lairg Preceded byThe Lord Irvine of Lairg Shadow Lord Chancellor 1997 Succeeded byThe Lord Kingsland Preceded byThe Earl of Wemyss Lord Clerk Register 2007–present Incumbent Orders of precedence in the United Kingdom Preceded byThe Lord Kirkhill GentlemenBaron Mackay of Clashfern Followed byThe Lord Cameron of Lochbroom