Derry Irvine, Baron Irvine of Lairg

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The Lord Irvine of Lairg
Coronet of a British Baron.svg
Irvine of Lairg Escutcheon.png
Lord Chancellor
In office
2 May 1997 – 12 June 2003
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byThe Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Succeeded byThe Lord Falconer of Thoroton
Shadow Lord Chancellor
In office
18 July 1992 – 2 May 1997
LeaderJohn Smith
Margaret Beckett (Acting)
Tony Blair
Preceded byThe Lord Mishcon
Succeeded byThe Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
Assumed office
25 March 1987
Life Peerage
Personal details
Born (1940-06-23) 23 June 1940 (age 82)
Inverness, Scotland, UK
Political partyLabour
SpouseAlison McNair
Alma materUniversity of Glasgow
Christ's College, Cambridge

Alexander Andrew Mackay Irvine, Baron Irvine of Lairg PC KC (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, the son of a roofer and a waitress. He was educated at the fee-paying private school, Hutchesons' Boys' 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 reading 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. Irvine later stated that the two men had remained on speaking terms, contrary to reports of a rift.[1] They later served in the same Cabinet. His first marriage ended in divorce, with his ex-wife subsequently moving to Canada.[1]


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.[2] 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"[3] 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.[4] He was appointed as Lord Chancellor after Blair's election victory in 1997 following 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.[5][6]

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.[7] 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.[7] Irvine came under further criticism after 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.[8]

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.[9] He was frequently thereafter drawn by political cartoonists wearing a cardinal's hat and robes.[citation needed]


After Blair dismissed him 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 October 2002, Irvine's son, Alastair Irvine, who went to the US to be treated for drug addiction, pleaded guilty to stalking and vandalism. He threatened the boyfriend of Nicole Healy, Karel Taska, damaging his pick-up truck with caustic acid. Derry Irvine and his wife, Alison, had not visited Alastair following his arrest or during his trial. The Newport Beach court heard allegations that Irvine fell for Ms Healy, who was working at the Newport Tanning Club, Newport Beach, a wealthy yachting enclave in southern California. Alastair Irvine pleaded guilty to six charges, including stalking and carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. Irvine, who had already served four months in Orange County jail, was sentenced to 16 months. The maximum sentence the court could have handed down was 16 years. The deputy district attorney, Mike Fell, said he was grateful Lord Irvine had not attempted to interfere.[10][11]


Coat of arms of Derry Irvine, Baron Irvine of Lairg
A man in the attire of the Lord Chancellor's purse bearer and carrying the Lord Chancellor's purse Proper.
Argent three holly leaves Proper on a chief Azure two bears' heads couped of the first muzzled Gules.
Dexter a salmon Proper having in its mouth a signet ring Or sinister a lion per fess Or and Sable.
Do The Right[12]


  1. ^ a b "BBC News | UK Politics | Lord Irvine's guilt over Dewar's wife". Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  2. ^ "The fall of Derry Irvine". Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  3. ^ White, Michael; editor, political (20 February 2001). "Why Tony and Cherie love 'Cupid QC'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 23 February 2017. {{cite news}}: |last2= has generic name (help)
  4. ^ "No. 50874". The London Gazette (1st supplement). 30 March 1987. p. 4265.
  5. ^ "Peers tense over tights". BBC News. 13 October 1998.
  6. ^ "Lord Irvine angry over wigs". BBC News. 10 November 1998.
  7. ^ a b 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.
  8. ^ "BBC News | UK | Irvine's attempt to paper over cracks". Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  9. ^ "The Godfather". The Independent. 11 October 1998. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  10. ^ "Irvine's son jailed for 16 months in US". 25 October 2002.
  11. ^ "Irvine son held on stalking charges". 12 April 2012.
  12. ^ Debrett's Peerage. 2019. p. 3148.
Political offices
Preceded by Shadow Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
Preceded by Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
Succeeded by
Orders of precedence in the United Kingdom
Preceded by Gentlemen
Baron Irvine of Lairg
Followed by
The Lord Stevens of Ludgate