Robert Finlay, 1st Viscount Finlay

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The Viscount Finlay

Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
In office
10 December 1916 – 10 January 1919
MonarchGeorge V
Prime MinisterDavid Lloyd George
Preceded byThe Lord Buckmaster
Succeeded byThe Lord Birkenhead
Personal details
Robert Bannatyne Finlay

(1842-07-11)11 July 1842
Newhaven, Edinburgh
Died9 March 1929(1929-03-09) (aged 86)
Kensington, London
Political partyLiberal
Liberal Unionist
Spouse(s)Mary Innes (d. 1911)
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh
Middle Temple

Robert Bannatyne Finlay, 1st Viscount Finlay, GCMG, PC (11 July 1842 – 9 March 1929), known as Sir Robert Finlay from 1895 to 1916, was a British lawyer, doctor and politician who became Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain.

Background and education[edit]

Finlay was born at Cherry Bank in Newhaven,[1] Edinburgh, the son of William Finlay, a physician, and Ann, daughter of Robert Bannatyne.[2] He was educated at the Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh University, graduating in medicine in 1864.[2]

Legal and political career[edit]

After entering Middle Temple as a student in 1865, Finlay was called to the bar two years later and built up a successful practice, becoming a Queen's Counsel in 1882. Three years later he was elected Liberal Member of Parliament for the Inverness Burghs, but broke with William Ewart Gladstone over Irish Home Rule and joined the Liberal Unionists in 1886. He lost his seat in 1892 but regained it three years later, the same year he was appointed Solicitor General and knighted.

In 1900, Finlay became Attorney General for England and Wales and also became President of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club, and gave the Toast to Sir Walter at the club's annual dinner. In 1902 he was elected Lord Rector of Edinburgh University. For his services in representing the British Empire in a number of international legal arbitrations he was appointed GCMG in 1904, and the following year became a Privy Counsellor. However, in the 1906 general election he again lost his seat, and it was to be another four years before he returned to Parliament as representative for Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities. One of his last official acts as Attorney General was to appoint his son, William, as a junior counsel to the Board of Inland Revenue, an appointment which provoked much negative comment.[2]

Judicial career[edit]

In 1916, Finlay became Lord Chancellor in Lloyd George's coalition government, being at the same time created Baron Finlay, of Nairn in the County of Nairn.[3] It is generally thought that Finlay was a temporary appointment: Lloyd George excluded him from the War Cabinet and insisted that he forego the £5,000 pension given to retired lord chancellors.[2] He sat on the Woolsack for three years, and in 1919, on his retirement, was created Viscount Finlay, of Nairn in the County of Nairn.[4]

The following year he was appointed a British member of the Court of Arbitration at The Hague, and in 1921 was elected a Judge of the Permanent Court of International Justice established by the League of Nations. As a judge of the Permanent Court he participated in the celebrated Lotus case in 1927, where the Court, by a bare majority. laid down the "Lotus principle" that States may exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction i.e. they may apply their national laws beyond their own borders, in any case where this is not explicitly prohibited. It appears that Finlay himself had considerable doubts about the validity of the Lotus principle, since he was one of the dissenting minority.[5]

Finlay received the freedom of the Royal burgh of Nairn on 1 October 1902.[6]


Lord Finlay married Mary, daughter of Cosmo Innes, in 1874. She died in June 1911. Lord Finlay died in March 1929, aged 86, at his home in Kensington, London, and was buried at Nairn. He was succeeded in his titles by his son, William, later a Lord Justice of Appeal.



  1. ^ Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory 1840-1855
  2. ^ a b c d Rubin, G. R. "Finlay, Robert Bannatyne, first Viscount Finlay (1842–1929)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/33132.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ London Gazette no. 29870 p. 12339
  4. ^ London Gazette no. 31271 p. 4414
  5. ^ The case of the S.S. Lotus France v. Turkey 1927 PCIJ seroes A no.9
  6. ^ "Court Circular". The Times (36888). London. 2 October 1902. p. 7.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Charles Fraser-Mackintosh
Member of Parliament for Inverness Burghs
Succeeded by
Gilbert Beith
Preceded by
Gilbert Beith
Member of Parliament for Inverness Burghs
Succeeded by
John Annan Bryce
Preceded by
Sir John Batty Tuke
Member of Parliament for Edinburgh & St Andrews Universities
January 19101916
Succeeded by
Christopher Nicholson Johnston
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Robert Reid
Solicitor General
Succeeded by
Sir Edward Carson
Preceded by
Sir Richard Webster
Attorney General of England and Wales
Succeeded by
Sir John Walton
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Buckmaster
Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
Succeeded by
The Lord Birkenhead
Academic offices
Preceded by
The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava
Rector of the University of Edinburgh
Succeeded by
Richard Haldane
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Finlay
Succeeded by
William Finlay