Until his appointment in November as chair of the Joint Committee on the Draft Protection of Charities Bill, Lord Hope of Craighead would have been an unfamiliar name to many in the sector.
But by steering the committee's discussions on the bill, which is designed to widen the powers of the Charity Commission, Hope has a significant role in the future of the regulator's work.
He is not a man with a great deal of charity background, but comes at the sector from the legal side. He retired in 2013 as deputy president of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, having reached the compulsory leaving age of 75.
He is a trustee of the Commonwealth Magistrates' and Judges' Association, a registered charity. His only other charity role, according his biography on Parliament.uk, is as trustee of the Bute House Trust, the body responsible for ensuring the terms of the lease are observed for the residence of Scotland's First Minister, which is owned by the National Trust for Scotland.
Hope declines to speak to Third Sector until the committee's work has concluded, but his motivation for his involvement appears to be an interest in law rather than in charities. On the other hand, his description in a 2013 interview with Legal Incite magazine of a "very moving" case he sat on in the 1970s – involving a gay man who wanted to adopt a heavily disabled baby – demonstrates that he is more than a cold, dispassionate legal operator.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury, a Liberal Democrat peer and founder of the law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite, also vouches for his qualities. "He is notably reasonable, intelligent and open-minded in the contributions he makes in the Lords," says Phillips. "He doesn't speak often, but when he does, he speaks wisely and well."
The committee has held several oral evidence sessions, at which Hope displayed a tendency to refer to the "Charities Commission" (it's singular). One regular attendee has praised him for the ease with which he led discussions and his fairness in allowing the various members their opportunity to question witnesses.
The evidence sessions concluded in January; the committee will move on to producing its report on the bill, which is expected in late February. The legislation will not be put before parliament until after the general election in May.