- "...if in order to destroy Dust we also have to destroy the Oblation Board, the College of Bishops, every single agency by which the Holy Holy Church does the work of the Authority — then so be it ... better a world with no church and no Dust than a world where every day we have to struggle under the hideous burden of sin."
- —Hugh MacPhail's fanatical position against Dust.[src]
Father President Hugh MacPhail was the president of the Consistorial Court of Discipline. He was celebrated as the youngest president in the history of the Consistorial Court of Discipline, a position that the holder keeps for life. He was a Scot and his dæmon was a lizard.
MacPhail proposed Lyra Silvertongue's assassination and suggested Father Gomez, a zealous member of the Court who had undergone pre-emptive penance, as the one to find and kill her before the prophecy of the witches could be fulfilled. McPhail also directed one of the younger priests to steal Coulter's locket to get a strand of Lyra's hair for the guidance mechanism of a bomb that he had had built for the purpose of tracking and killing Lyra.
He decided to punish Coulter for not bringing Lyra to him when she had the chance by severing her from her dæmon, thereby releasing the energy needed to launch the bomb intended to kill Lyra. When Coulter escaped he chose what he considered to be martyrdom, conducting his own intercision, and died.
MacPhail was in his forties when elected as president. He was tall and imposing, with wiry grey hair and dark features. Were it not for his subsistence on bread, fruit and water alone and his brutal exercise regime under a trainer of world-class athletes, he would have been a fat man. Instead, he was gaunt and restless.