Derry Irvine, Baron Irvine of Lairg

The Right Honourable
The Lord Irvine of Lairg
Lord Chancellor
In office
2 May 1997  12 June 2003
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by The Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Succeeded by The Lord Falconer of Thoroton
Shadow Lord Chancellor
In office
18 July 1992  2 May 1997
Leader John Smith
Margaret Beckett (Acting)
Tony Blair
Preceded by The Lord Mishcon
Succeeded by The Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Personal details
Born (1940-06-23) 23 June 1940
Inverness, Scotland, UK
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Alison McNair
Alma mater University of Glasgow
Christ's College, Cambridge

Alexander Andrew Mackay Irvine, Baron Irvine of Lairg, PC, QC (born 23 June 1940), known as Derry Irvine, is a Scottish lawyer, judge, and political figure who served as Lord Chancellor under his former pupil barrister, Tony Blair.


Irvine was born in Inverness, Scotland, and educated at the fee-paying private school, Hutchesons Grammar School in Glasgow.

Later Irvine read Scots law at the University of Glasgow and became involved in debating with the Glasgow University Dialectic Society and at the Glasgow University Union, where he befriended contemporary Labourites Donald Dewar and John Smith. After studying English law at Christ's College, Cambridge, he taught law briefly at the London School of Economics and was called to the Bar in 1967. In the late 1960s, Dewar's wife, Alison, left Dewar for Irvine,[1] and the two men remained unreconciled. They later served in the same Cabinet.


Irvine joined chambers headed by Morris Finer QC (later as a judge, Sir Morris Finer). In 1970 he contested the Hendon North constituency as a Labour Party candidate. He became a QC in 1978 and head of chambers in 1981, on founding 11 King's Bench Walk Chambers. Among his pupil barristers were Tony Blair and Cherie Booth; at their wedding he dubbed himself "Cupid QC" for having introduced them. In the 1980s he became a Recorder, and then a Deputy High Court Judge.

He was a legal adviser to the Labour Party through the 1980s, and he was given a life peerage as Baron Irvine of Lairg, of Lairg in the District of Sutherland on 25 March 1987.[2] He was appointed as Lord Chancellor after Blair's election victory in 1997 after serving for five years as Shadow Lord Chancellor. Blair's predecessor as Labour leader, John Smith, had chosen Irvine as Shadow Lord Chancellor.

A highlight of Irvine's period in office was the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into United Kingdom law. Irvine devised a measure to maintain the supremacy of Parliament while allowing judges to declare Acts of Parliament not to be in compliance with the Convention. He caused controversy by ditching part of the Lord Chancellor's traditional attire.[3][4]

In addition to his traditional role of supervising the legal system, in 2001 he gained responsibility for a wide range of constitutional issues, including human rights and freedom of information.


Irvine regularly faced controversy as Lord Chancellor. Soon after his appointment in 1998, the Lord Chancellor's official residence in the Palace of Westminster was redecorated at a cost to the taxpayer of £650,000. Hand-printed wallpaper alone accounted for £59,000.[5] Much of the criticism devolved on Irvine, despite responsibility for the renovations lying with the House of Lords authorities rather than Irvine himself. Contractors working on the renovations were forced to sign the Official Secrets Act to avoid revelations of the expenditure leaking out to the public.[5] Irvine got into further hot water by saying that the expenditure was worth it because the redecorations wouldn't "collapse after a year" like products from B&Q, a well-known British D-I-Y store.[6]

Early in 2003 he was awarded a pay rise of £22,691 as a result of a formula designed to keep his salary ahead of that of the Lord Chief Justice. After an outcry he accepted a more modest increase. Irvine became an object of ridicule after he provided a copy of a speech - initially given at a private event - in which he compared himself to Cardinal Wolsey, to a reporter from The Times newspaper.[7] He was frequently thereafter drawn by political cartoonists wearing a Cardinal's hat and robes.


Following his retirement in June 2003 Lord Falconer of Thoroton was named his successor. At the same time, it was announced that the post of Lord Chancellor would be abolished. The plan to abolish the office was later abandoned, though it was partially reformed in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, and is now used as a secondary title to the Secretary of State for Justice.

In 2005 Irvine became a Patron of the charity Prisoners Abroad.


  1. "Ministers turn their backs on marriage.". The Daily Mail. 15 January 2001. Retrieved 17 August 2007.
  2. The London Gazette: no. 50874. p. 4265. 30 March 1987.
  3. "Peers tense over tights". BBC News. 13 October 1998.
  4. "Lord Irvine angry over wigs". BBC News. 10 November 1998.
  5. 1 2 Sylvester, Rachel; Winnett, Robert (29 March 2008). "Michael Martin's home gets £1.7m makeover". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 2 April 2008. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Mishcon
Shadow Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
The Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Preceded by
The Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
The Lord Falconer of Thoroton
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