A giant of the field of immigration law. He is recognised as a leading author in this area.


Ian has been involved with race relations and immigration law since the days of opposition to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962. He was a member of a small group of Society of Labour Lawyers and of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) legal group in the 1960s, which helped draft proposals for race relations law in the United Kingdom.

He wrote his first book for Butterworths on immigration and race relations law in 1969. His book Macdonald's Immigration Law and Practice is now in its 9th edition and is the standard textbook used by immigration practitioners, immigration officials, adjudicators and judges.

Ian was born in Glasgow and remains committed to his Scottish heritage. Friends went to the Scottish Bar and prospered, but apart from reading for the English Bar in the Faculty of Advocates' Library in Edinburgh, and being in a Swiss law firm in Geneva, he has so far stuck to the English Bar, where he has built up a very successful practice. Ian started life at the Bar in a very establishment set, specialising in local government and planning law, and had done a bit of teaching at what is now Kingston University. Then he heard of a zany bunch of young radicals who had set up shop in Lincoln's Inn just after finishing pupillage, and rushed to join them. Thus began Garden Court Chambers in 1974. Ian went on to become joint head of Garden Court Chambers and then also became the first Head of Garden Court North Chambers when it was founded in 1996.


Ian’s immigration practice continues to cover the whole field of immigration law, both court work and advice. Ian has been instructed in many of the well-known anti-deportation campaign cases and has been counsel, both as junior and as silk, in numerous reported immigration cases from Immigration Appeal Tribunal level up to the House of Lords, and has been to Strasbourg and to the European Court in Luxembourg.

Ian is regularly instructed privately to provide advice and representation in immigration matters, including revocation of sponsorship licenses of educational institutions, the position of students at these colleges, students accused of using a proxy to take their English language tests, loss of sponsorship licences by employers, penalty charges for illegal employment, Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) and (Investor)  applications, Tier 2 (General) applications by or on behalf of workers and advice to football clubs and other sporting bodies about options for overseas players.

In 1998 he was appointed by the Attorney General as special advocate to the Immigration Appeals Commission dealing with national security cases, and acted in that capacity in both pre and post 9/11 appeals. He resigned in December 2004 in protest against the indefinite detention powers without trial imposed by the Anti Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, and has since acted in control order appeals.

Inquests and public inquiries

Ian has always undertaken inquest work, acting for bereaved families, since the early days of his practice, appearing at St Pancras Coroners’ court on an almost weekly basis in the 1960s. In 1981 he represented families of those who had died in the Deptford fire and became famous for riding his bike from the inquest to the High Court to challenge rulings of the coroner. In 1987 he was appointed chair of an inquiry into racial violence in Manchester Schools, following the murder in the playground of 13-year-old Ahmed Ullah by another pupil. His widely proclaimed report was published in book form under the title Murder in the Playground. In 1998 he was leading counsel for Duwayne Brooks in the Lawrence Inquiry, helped to run community self defence on behalf of young Asian clients, who mobilised to resist attacks by racist mobs on their community in Burnley in 2002, and was briefed with Terry Munyard in autumn 2003 on behalf of the Sylvester family in the Inquest into the death under police restraint of the late Roger Sylvester. His recent cases include:

  • Ongoing inquest into death of victim shot by police in London which involves undisclosable secret information, which may make it impossible to hold an Article 2 (ECHR) compatible inquest; and
  • Counsel for family following restraint death in Prestwich regional secure hospital in Greater Manchester.

Public law (judicial review)

Ian undertakes judicial review work relating to immigration, prison law and other civil and criminal law cases.

Notable cases

Publications and media appearances

  • Macdonald’s Immigration Law and Practice (9th ed) with Ronan Toal and other members of the immigration team in Chambers;
  • 2/10/12 – UK’s rejection of Afghan interpreter asylum bid (BBC Newsnight);
  • 21/11/11 – Dereci (European citizenship) case commentary;
  • 21/7/11 – “Exploitation” in the context of the offence of trafficking (Lexis Nexis Current Awareness);
  • New Nationality Law with Nicholas Blake (1984);
  • Race Relations: The New Law (1977);
  • Race Relations and Immigration Law (1969);
  • The Land Commission Act 1967 (co-author);
  • Resale Price Maintenance (1964);
  • Ian is on the editorial board of Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Law and was former consultant editor of Butterworth’s Encyclopaedia of Forms and Precedents; and Nationality and Immigration; and
  • Ian has written numerous articles on (inter alia) immigration, counter terrorism, race and employment law for New Law Journal, IDS Brief Supplements, Oxford Economic Law Review, Race & Class Today, the national media, Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Law and for journals in Canada and the United States.


  • Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (President 1984 – 2013);
  • Administrative Law Bar Association;
  • Bar European Group; and
  • Criminal Bar Association.

Privacy Notice

Ian’s Privacy Notice may be viewed by clicking here.


A vastly knowledgeable and highly respected silk who has a long history of assisting asylum seekers and others facing immigration and nationality issues. He offers a wealth of experience and routinely undertakes Tribunal, High Court and Court of Appeal work. Strengths: "He is the godfather of immigration. He's been doing it for decades, and he knows about every area. He's a stalwart in the industry."Chambers and Partners 2018
A giant of the field of immigration law. He is recognised as a leading author in this area.Chambers and Partners 2017
A heavyweight authority on immigration and nationality law.The UK Legal 500 2016
He is involved in the big, detailed cases on the important points.Chambers and Partners 2016
An innovator in the field.The UK Legal 500 2015
An incredibly accomplished silk who has a long history of working at the forefront of immigration law, having practised since the 1960s.Chambers and Partners 2015
The go-to person in extremely complicated cases.The UK Legal 500 2014
Ian Macdonald QC is the author of key immigration practitioners’ textbooks. His elevation to Senior Statesman status is in recognition of his long-standing contribution to the field of immigration law.Chambers and Partners 2013
His personal approach is valued by sources, ...his 'affable, outside the box style endears him to peers and clients alike'.Chambers and Partners 2009


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