James (Peter Hymers) Mackay

(Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

1927 -

Lord Mackay of Clashfern
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

Lord Chancellor. Born in Edinburgh, the son of a railway signalman, Mackay was educated at George Heriot's School and at the University of Edinburgh, where he initially studied mathematics. He taught at St. Andrew's University before returning to Edinburgh to study law. He was admitted to the Bar (1955) and became a Queen's Counsel (1965). In 1979, Mackay was appointed Lord Advocate, the senior law officer in Scotland, and was created a Life Peer, taking his title from his father's birthplace in Sutherland. He rose to become a member of the Court of Session, Scotland's highest court (1984). In 1985, he became a member of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, the highest court in the United Kingdom.

Margaret Thatcher appointed Mackay Lord Chancellor in 1987. This was a political post, with overall responsibility for the justice system in England and Wales. He served until the Conservatives lost power in 1997, by which time he had become one of the longest serving Lord Chancellors and had made his mark through legislative reforms, including a 'no-fault' divorce bill. He remained an active member of the House of Lords until his retirement in 2022 at the remarkable age of 95.

An unfortunate incident occurred when Mackay, who was an elder of the Free Church, had attended the funeral masses for two close Roman Catholic friends. This was considered a 'crime' by the Free Church authorities and he was excommunicated, bringing about a schism and the formation of Associated Presbyterian Church (1989).

Mackay was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1984. Queen Elizabeth II installed him as a Knight of the Order of the Thistle in a ceremony at St Giles Cathedral (1999).

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