Charlie Falconer, Baron Falconer of Thoroton

Charles Leslie Falconer, Baron Falconer of Thoroton, PC, QC, (born 19 November 1951), is a British Labour peer and barrister.

The Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Shadow Secretary of State for Justice
Shadow Lord Chancellor
In office
11 May 2015  26 June 2016
LeaderHarriet Harman (Acting)
Jeremy Corbyn
ShadowingMichael Gove
Preceded bySadiq Khan
Succeeded byRichard Burgon
Secretary of State for Justice
In office
9 May 2007  27 June 2007
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byJack Straw
Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
In office
12 June 2003  28 June 2007
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byThe Lord Irvine of Lairg
Succeeded byThe Baroness Hayman
(as Lord Speaker)
Jack Straw
Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
In office
12 June 2003  8 May 2007
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Minister of State for Home Affairs
In office
29 May 2002  12 June 2003
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byKeith Bradley
Succeeded byThe Baroness Scotland of Asthal
Minister of State for Housing and Planning
In office
11 June 2001  29 May 2002
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byNick Raynsford
Succeeded byThe Lord Rooker
Minister of State for the Cabinet Office
In office
28 July 1998  11 June 2001
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byNew appointment
Succeeded byThe Baroness Morgan of Huyton
Solicitor General for England and Wales
In office
6 May 1997  28 July 1998
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byDerek Spencer
Succeeded byRoss Cranston
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
Assumed office
14 May 1997
Life peerage
Personal details
Charles Leslie Falconer

(1951-11-19) 19 November 1951
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Political partyLabour
Alma materQueens' College, Cambridge

Falconer became the Lord Chancellor and the first Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs in 2003 under Prime Minister Tony Blair, and would go on to become the first Secretary of State for Justice in a 2007 reorganisation and enlargement of the portfolio of the Department for Constitutional Affairs. He held this role for over a month until Gordon Brown became Prime Minister in June 2007. Falconer was replaced by Jack Straw. He was named Shadow Justice Secretary under the acting leadership of Harriet Harman in 2015, and continued in this role after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the party, until—along with dozens of his colleagues—he resigned on 26 June 2016.[1][2]

Education and early life

Charles Leslie Falconer was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 19 November 1951, the son of John Leslie Falconer, a solicitor, and his wife Anne Mansel.[3] His paternal grandfather was John Ireland Falconer, a former Lord Provost of Edinburgh.[4] Falconer was educated at the Edinburgh Academy and Trinity College, Glenalmond.[3] He read Law at Queens' College, Cambridge.

On 20 July 2010, Falconer was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws (LLD) by Nottingham Trent University.[5]

Relationship with Tony Blair

Falconer became a flatmate of Tony Blair when they were both young barristers in London in the late 1970s in Wandsworth, having first met as pupils at rival Scottish schools in the 1960s. While Blair went into politics, Falconer concentrated on his legal career. He practised from Fountain Court Chambers in London, and became a Queen's Counsel in 1991.

Early political career, 1997–2003

Falconer applied to be the Labour candidate for the safe seat of Dudley North ahead of the 1997 general election, but he "fluffed" his interview with the Labour constituency committee by refusing to take his four children out of public schools. Barrister Ross Cranston was selected instead and won the seat, holding it from 1997 to 2005. Cranston would later go on to succeed Falconer as Solicitor General for England and Wales, serving from 1998 to 2001.[6]

On 14 May 1997, just after Blair became Prime Minister, Falconer was created a life peer as Baron Falconer of Thoroton in the County of Nottinghamshire.[7] He was the first peer created on the new Prime Minister's recommendation, and immediately joined the government as Solicitor General.

Falconer became Minister of State at the Cabinet Office in 1998, taking over responsibility for the Millennium Dome following the resignation of Peter Mandelson. He acquired the nickname of "Dome Secretary" over time. He was heavily criticised for the failure of the Dome to attract an audience, but resisted calls for his resignation. This was in contrast to the sacking of Dome chief executive Jennie Page just one month after the fiasco of the New Millennium eve opening night.

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

Cabinet minister, 2003–2007

In 2003 Falconer joined the Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, becoming also Lord Chancellor "for the interim period" before the office was planned to be 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 "back-of-an-envelope" plan. There had been no Green paper discussions nor White paper proposals; and it became something of a shock to realise that the proposed abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor would require primary legislation. The policy of removing the Lord Chancellor's judicial role was said 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, in 2006 Falconer told the House of Lords Constitution Committee that he regretted campaigning for the abolishment of the role of Lord Chancellor and was glad the title had been reserved. In his opinion, the office "still had a role to play in defending the independence of the courts."[8]

Freedom of Information Act

In his role as Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, 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. The legislation allowed requests for information to be refused if the cost they would incur exceeded £600 for Whitehall and £450 for other public bodies. Falconer proposed changes that would make no difference to this level, but would expand the number of activities whose cost would be included in the totals, thus 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, Falconer told a BBC radio programme 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 medium.[10]

Political career after leaving cabinet, 2007–

Falconer was replaced in his ministerial posts by Jack Straw in Gordon Brown's inaugural cabinet reshuffle, with Straw becoming the first non-Member of the House of Lords to take up the historic office of Lord Chancellor.

On 7 June 2009, while being interviewed by the BBC Politics Show, 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, following being "humiliated" at the 2009 County Council elections. He said he was "not sure" Labour could unite while Brown remained leader, arguing "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".[11]

Since leaving office, Falconer has gone on to hold various position outside Parliament. On 22 May 2008, it was announced that he had been appointed as Chairman of the AmicusHorizon Group Limited, a Registered Social Landlord.[12] On 8 July 2008, Falconer joined US law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher as a senior counsel.[13]

In 2014, Falconer proposed the Assisted Dying Bill to the House of Lords, which seeks to legalise euthanasia in the UK for those who have less than six months to live, building on the experience of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.[14] In 2018, he apologised for his role as Lord Chancellor in the war on drugs, and now thought drug prohibition had been a "tragic disaster" for the poor worldwide. He thought governments should take control of drug supply, thus reducing the involvement of violent gangs, and proposed that the legal regulation of drug production and supply should be in the next Labour manifesto.[15]

Personal life

He married Marianna Hildyard,[16] also a barrister, in 1985. She became a QC in 2002.[17] Her father, Sir David Henry Thoroton Hildyard, was the British Ambassador to Chile. They have four children: Hamish, William "Rocco", Rosie and Johnny. Falconer placed his three sons at independent Westminster School and St Paul's School, and his daughter at South Hampstead School.[18] In the lead-up to the 1997 election, as he attempted to be selected for the seat of Dudley East, it proved to be an electoral problem for Falconer. He intended to keep his children at Westminster if selected, which caused the local selection panel to drop him from the selection procedure.[19]

He and his family own a house and a basement flat in Islington. They also own a country retreat in Thoroton, Nottinghamshire. Falconer's father used to live in the village, and they rent out his old home.

Falconer was chair of Cambridge University Amnesty International between 2006 and 2007, and is the director of Sudan Divestment.[20] He is chair of the board for a social enterprise set up at Pentonville Prison, Liberty Kitchen.[21]

Falconer was addicted to Diet Coke as part of a drastic diet to lose weight, in which he ate apples and drank the aforementioned sugar-free beverage, eschewing all other foods as well as tea, coffee and alcohol.[22]


  1. Syal, Rajeev; Perraudin, Frances (26 June 2016). "Shadow cabinet resignations: who has gone and who is staying". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  2. Syal, Rajeev; Perraudin, Frances; Slawson, Nicola (27 June 2016). "Shadow cabinet resignations: who has gone and who is staying". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
  3. "Blair's pal and valued confidant". Financial Times, London, UK, LONDON 2ND EDITION. 27 September 2003.
  4. "EDINBURGH'S NEXT LORD PROVOST: Mr John I. Falconer to Be Elected COUNCIL MEETING TO-DAY". The Scotsman Newspaper, Edinburgh, Scotland. 10 November 1944. p. 4.
  5. "Lord Falconer receives honorary degree from Nottingham Trent University". YouTube. 21 July 2010.
  7. "No. 54768". The London Gazette. 19 May 1997. p. 5853.
  8. Wheeler, Brian (22 November 2006). "Falconer 'wrong' over ancient job". BBC News. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  9. Rob Evans (30 March 2007). "Ministers backtrack on secrecy plans". The Guardian.
  10. Anderson, Nate (21 February 2008). "Former Lord Chancellor wants retroactive UK web censorship".
  11. Lord Falconer says Labour 'probably' needs new Leader, Daily Telegraph, 7 June 2009, retrieved 30 August 2013
  12. "AmicusHorizon Ltd website. Retrieved 7 June 2009". 17 May 2012. Archived from the original on 3 September 2011.
  13. "Gibson Dunn secures hire of ex-Lord Chancellor". Claire Ruckin. 8 July 2008; Legal Week Archived 15 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  14. "Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill – Dignity in Dying". Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  15. Gayle, Damien (24 September 2018). "Labour peer Charles Falconer apologises over war on drugs". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  16. "Marianna Hildyard QC at 4 Brick Court website". Archived from the original on 25 February 2012.
  17. "Profile: Domesday for Falconer?". BBC News. 9 November 2000.
  18. "The actual title goes here!". The Times.
  19. Lordly heights for Blair's friend, BBC News, 12 June 2003, retrieved 30 August 2013
  20. "Blair hands falconer a flat worth £200,000 a year". London Evening Standard. 25 October 2006. Archived from the original on 21 March 2007. Retrieved 12 January 2007.
  21. "A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE LONDON STREET FOOD PROJECT". Amandine. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  22. “The big downside consequence is that I have become addicted to Diet Coke. I might drink eight or nine of them a day.", the Guardian, 26 October 2014
Legal offices
Preceded by
Derek Spencer
Solicitor General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Ross Cranston
Political offices
Preceded by
Nick Raynsford
Minister of State for Housing and Planning
Succeeded by
Jeff Rooker
New office Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
Became Secretary of State for Justice
Preceded by
The Lord Irvine of Lairg
Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
Succeeded by
Jack Straw
New office Secretary of State for Justice
Preceded by
Sadiq Khan
Shadow Secretary of State for Justice
Succeeded by
Richard Burgon
Shadow Lord Chancellor
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
The Lord Irvine of Lairg
Presiding Officer of the House of Lords
as Lord Chancellor

Succeeded by
The Baroness Hayman
as Lord Speaker
Orders of precedence in the United Kingdom
Preceded by
The Lord Hoyle
Baron Falconer of Thoroton
Followed by
The Lord Simon of Highbury
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