He was educated at Edinburgh Academy, Rugby School, St John's College, Cambridge and at the University of Edinburgh. After National service with the Seaforth Highlanders he was admitted as an advocate in 1965 and became a Queen's Counsel in 1978. He was an Advocate Depute from 1978 to 1982, Chairman of the Medical Appeal Tribunal and the Pensions Appeal Tribunal from 1985 to 1986. He was Dean of the Faculty of Advocates from 1986 to 1989.
He was appointed a Senator of the College of Justice, Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice General in 1989. He became a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 1996.
He was made a Privy Counsellor in 1989 and a Life peer, as Baron Hope of Craighead, of Bamff in the District of Perth and Kinross in 1995.
He has been Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde since 1998.