Charles Falconer, Baron Falconer of Thoroton


Charles Falconer, Baron Falconer of Thoroton
The Right Honourable
The Lord Falconer of Thoroton
PC QC
Secretary of State for Justice
In office
9 May 2007 – 27 June 2007
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Jack Straw
Lord Chancellor
In office
16 June 2003 – 28 June 2007
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by The Lord Irvine of Lairg
Succeeded by Jack Straw
Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
In office
12 June 2003 – 8 May 2007
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
Solicitor General for England and Wales
In office
6 May 1997 – 28 July 1998
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Derek Spencer
Succeeded by Ross Cranston
Personal details
Born 19 November 1951 (1951-11-19) (age 59)
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Political party Labour
Alma mater Queens' College, Cambridge

Charles Leslie Falconer, Baron Falconer of Thoroton, PC (born 19 November 1951) is a British Labour politician, who became the Lord Chancellor and the first Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (a position created originally to replace the position of Lord Chancellor) in 2003. In May 2007, the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) became the new Ministry of Justice with an enhanced portfolio, that encompasses all the responsibilities of the former DCA plus some functions transferred from the Home Office. Upon that reorganisation taking effect on 9 May 2007, Lord Falconer became the first Secretary of State for Justice, while keeping the title and role of Lord Chancellor. Following Gordon Brown's accession to the position of Prime Minister, Falconer was replaced as Minister of Justice.

Contents

Education and early life

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Falconer was educated at the Edinburgh Academy, Trinity College, Glenalmond, and Queens' College, Cambridge.

On 20 July 2010, Lord Falconer was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) by Nottingham Trent University[1]

Falconer and Blair

He became a flatmate of Tony Blair when they were both young barristers in London in the late 1970s in Wandsworth. They had first met as pupils at rival schools in the 1960s. At school, he dated Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, an ex-girlfriend of Blair's, immediately after that relationship. While Blair went into politics, Falconer concentrated on his legal career. They met again in 1976 when working as barristers in the same chambers. He practised from Fountain Court Chambers in London, and became a Queen's Counsel in 1991.

Personal life

He married Marianna Hildyard,[2] also a barrister, in 1985.[3] Her father, D.H.T. Hildyard, was the British Ambassador to Chile in Santiago. She became a QC in 2002. They have four children: Hamish, William (known as Rocco), Rosie and Johnny. Hamish is a student at St John's College, Cambridge. He was chair of Cambridge University Amnesty International 2006 - 2007, and is the director of Sudan Divestment. They own a £2.5m house and a £250,000 basement flat in Islington. They also own a £550,000 country retreat in Thoroton (between Bingham and Bottesford in Nottinghamshire). His father used to live in the village, and they rent out his old home.[4]

Having had a privileged education and upbringing, he placed three sons at independent Westminster School and St Paul's School, and daughter at South Hampstead school.[5] (Tony Blair later used teachers from this school to tutor his children privately.) This proved to be an electoral problem when he tried to be selected for the seat of Dudley East before the 1997 election, which had been held by John Gilbert. He intended to keep his children at Westminster if selected, which caused the local selection panel to drop him from the selection procedure.

Political career under Tony Blair

In May 1997 Blair became Prime Minister and Falconer was made a life peer as Baron Falconer of Thoroton, of Thoroton in the County of Nottinghamshire (he was the first peer created on Blair's recommendation), and joined the government as Solicitor General. In 1998 he became Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, taking over responsibility for the Millennium Dome (and acquiring the nickname of Dome Secretary) after the resignation of Peter Mandelson. He was heavily criticised for the failure of the Dome to attract an audience, but resisted calls for his resignation. This is in contrast to the sacking of Dome Chief Executive Jennie Page just one month after the fiasco of the New Millennium eve opening night.

He joined the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions as Minister for Housing, Planning and Regeneration after the 2001 election and moved on to the Home Office in 2002. At the Home Office he was responsible for criminal justice, sentencing and law reform, and annoyed some of his fellow lawyers by suggesting that their fees were too high.

In 2003 he joined the Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, becoming also Lord Chancellor 'for the interim period' before the office was abolished. The government argued that the position of a cabinet minister as a Judge and Head of the Judiciary was no longer appropriate and would not be upheld by the European Convention on Human Rights. The announcement was generally seen as a rushed one as the abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor would require primary legislation. Removing the Lord Chancellor's judicial role was a policy known to be disliked by Lord Irvine of Lairg, the previous Lord Chancellor.

The post of Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs took over the remaining responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor, and also became the sponsoring Department for the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland. Falconer announced his intention not to use the Lord Chancellor's power to sit as a judge and stopped wearing the traditional robe and wig of office. Falconer hoped to be the last to hold the title, ending 1,400 years of tradition. However, Lord Falconer has since said to the House of Lords Constitution Committee that he now "regrets" campaigning for the historic role of Lord Chancellor to be abolished. He even joked about reinstating the traditional practice - abolished by his predecessor Lord Irvine - of making the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Earl Marshal walk backwards ahead of the Queen to show respect. "I was keen to walk backwards, but was told I could not because all the other people now walked forwards and I would look like a crazed... I would be a very, very odd Lord Chancellor on that basis", Lord Falconer told the committee.

Career under Gordon Brown

Falconer was replaced in his ministerial posts by Jack Straw in Gordon Brown's inaugural cabinet reshuffle.

On 22 May 2008 it was announced that Lord Falconer had been appointed as Chairman of the AmicusHorizon Group Limited, a Registered Social Landlord.[6]

On 8 July 2008, Lord Falconer joined US law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher ,kll as a senior counsel[7]

On 7 June 2009 on the BBC Falconer called for an urgent debate on Gordon Brown's leadership, as Labour braced itself for "terrible" election results at the 2009 European Parliament Elections, having been humiliated at the 2009 County Council elections. The former cabinet minister told the BBC he was "not sure" Labour could unite while Mr Brown remained leader.[8] He told the BBC: "Can we get unity under the current leadership? I am not sure that we can and we need to debate it urgently and I think probably it will need a change in leader." He said he admired Gordon Brown "greatly" but said he had an "inability to hold the party together".

Freedom of Information Act

In his role as Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Lord Falconer sought to make it easier for government bodies to refuse to release documents under the Freedom of Information Act (2000), on the grounds that they are too expensive and too time-consuming for civil servants to find. Currently, the legislation allows requests for information to be refused if the cost they will incur exceeds £600 for Whitehall and £450 for other public bodies. Lord Falconer's proposed changes would make no difference to this level, but would expand the number of activities that would be included in the totals, making it easier for government parties to refuse requests for information. At the end of March 2007, Falconer's department announced that it would not introduce the proposals to parliament, but would instead have a second three-month consultation with the public (the previous consultation, also of three months, ended three weeks previous to this). Media elements reported this change as a 'backtracking', and Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, was quoted as saying "This raises the strong possibility that the government will decide to leave the current arrangements untouched"[9]

Internet censorship

In February 2008, Lord Falconer told a BBC radio program that the government should require certain news articles to be removed from online archives during sensitive trials.[10] This move was questioned as the articles were readily available in printed newspapers and other physical media, presenting a possible misunderstanding of the internet as a media.[10]

References

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Derek Spencer
Solicitor General for England and Wales
1997–1998
Succeeded by
Ross Cranston
Political offices
New office Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
2003–2007
Succeeded by
Himself
as Secretary of State for Justice
Preceded by
The Lord Irvine of Lairg
Lord Chancellor
2003–2007
Succeeded by
Jack Straw
Preceded by
Himself
as Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
Secretary of State for Justice
2007
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
The Lord Irvine of Lairg
Presiding Officer in the House of Lords
as Lord Chancellor

2003–2006
Succeeded by
The Baroness Hayman
as Lord Speaker

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