Derry Irvine, Baron Irvine of Lairg

Derry Irvine, Baron Irvine of Lairg
The Right Honourable
The Lord Irvine of Lairg
Lord Chancellor
In office
2 May 1997 – 16 June 2003
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by The Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Succeeded by The Lord Falconer of Thoroton
Personal details
Born 23 June 1940 (1940-06-23) (age 71)
Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Alison Mary McNair
Alma mater University of Glasgow
Christ's College, Cambridge
Profession Barrister

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

He became a figure of controversy in 1998, when details of the renovations carried out on his official residence were made public. They cost a total of £650,000, including hand-printed wallpaper worth £59,000.[1]


Personal life

Born in Inverness, Scotland, he studied 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, Donald Dewar's wife, Alison, left Dewar for Irvine,[2] and the two men remained unreconciled, even though they were later to serve in the same Cabinet.


He joined chambers headed by Morris Finer QC (later as a judge, Sir Morris Finer). In 1970 he fought Hendon North 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, and at their wedding he dubbed himself "Cupid QC" for having introduced them. During the 1980s he also became a Recorder, and then a Deputy High Court Judge.

He was a legal adviser to the Labour Party through the 1980s, which included advice on how to expel members of the Militant tendency, and he was given a life peerage as Baron Irvine of Lairg, of Lairg in the District of Sutherland in 1987. His appointment as Lord Chancellor after Blair's election victory in 1997 was widely expected after he had served for five years as Shadow Lord Chancellor. In fact, Blair's predecessor as Labour leader - John Smith - had decided that Irvine should become Lord Chancellor in the next Labour government.

Probably the 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.

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. This was interpreted as a move away from a strong freedom of information law, as Irvine was thought not to be a firm believer in the concept.


Irvine's reputation derives from his skills as a lawyer rather than as a politician[citation needed], and he 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.[1] Although the decision had been taken by an all-party House of Lords Committee before the election[citation needed], much of the criticism devolved on him. However, contractors working on the renovations were forced to sign the Official Secrets Act in order to avoid revelations of the expenditure leaking out to the public.[1]

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 rise.


Following his retirement in June 2003, his successor was named as Lord Falconer of Thoroton. At the same time it was announced that the post of Lord Chancellor would be abolished. Irvine was known to be against such a policy and it was widely speculated that his departure had not been voluntary. The plan to abolish the office was however later abandoned though it was partially reformed in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.

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


  1. ^ a b c Sylvester, Rachel; Winnett, Robert (29 March 2008). "Michael Martin's home gets £1.7m makeover". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  2. ^ "Ministers turn their backs on marriage.". The Daily Mail. 2001-01-15. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
The Lord Falconer of Thoroton

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