The Lord Falconer of Thoroton
|Secretary of State for Justice|
8 May 2007 - 28 June 2007
|Himself (Constitutional Affairs)|
|Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain|
12 June 2003 - 28 June 2007
|The Lord Irvine of Lairg|
|Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs|
12 June 2003 - 8 May 2007
|Member of the House of Lords|
15 May 1997
Charles Leslie Falconer
19 November 1951
|Alma mater||Queens' College, Cambridge|
Charles Leslie Falconer, Baron Falconer of Thoroton, (born 19 November 1951), is a British Labour peer and barrister who served as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs under Prime Minister Tony Blair from 2003 to 2007.
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 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. He was appointed as Shadow Attorney General in the Starmer Shadow Cabinet on 6 April 2020.
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. His paternal grandfather was John Ireland Falconer, a former Lord Provost of Edinburgh. Falconer was educated at the Edinburgh Academy and Trinity College, Glenalmond. He read Law at Queens' College, Cambridge.
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.
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.
On 14 May 1997, just after Blair became Prime Minister, Falconer was created a life peer as Baron Falconer of Thoroton, of Thoroton in the County of Nottinghamshire. 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" (a play on the position of Home 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.
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 abolition 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."
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".
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.
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. 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.
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".
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.
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.
Since leaving office, Falconer has gone on to hold various positions 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.
On 8 July 2008, Falconer joined US law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher as a senior counsel, where he remained as late as April 2021. At this time the Greensill scandal dragged him into the mire over his advice to extramural firms in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, which he once called "the gift that keeps on giving" for lawyers although he regretted that slip of the tongue but by then the cat was out of the bag.
He married Marianna Hildyard, also a barrister, in 1985. She became a QC in 2002. 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. 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.
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. He is chair of the board for a social enterprise set up at Pentonville Prison, Liberty Kitchen.