Goodbye our patron

The Swindon Seniors Forum have learned with great sadness of the passing of our patron, the most respected human rights lawyer, Lord Joel Joffe. The reaction to his departure has been widespread, mourning the loss of a man who dedicated his life for humanitarian causes.

Lord Joffe was born in 1932 in South Africa where, from a young age, he opposed the wrongs of South African apartheid. This sentiment expressed itself as soon as he obtained his law degree at the University of Witwatersran in Johannesburg as he set to work in his capacity as a human rights lawyer. His mission culminated in defending the most famous political personality in the history of South Africa, another human rights activitist who later became the first democratically elected president in South Africa, the late Nelson Mandela. Joffe also represented campaigner and African National Congress veteran Mama Thembi Nobhadula.

Before he defended Mandela, Lord Joffe had plans to immigrate to Australia, plans which had to wait for the conclusion of the Rivonnia Trial. Unfortunately, he was refused entry to Australia allegedly because of his involvement in that trial so he migrated to the UK, where he worked in life insurance and financial services, setting up Hambro Life Assurance (subsequently Allied Dunbar) with another South African, Sir Mark Weinberg. He also worked in major hospitals and health authorities and with Oxfam in its early budding years. He founded the Joffe Charitable Trust through which he supported a number of charities.

It is not surprising that his contributions to civil society in the UK and South Africa have led to his appointment CBE in the 1999 New Year Honours and made a life peer on 16 February 2000, being raised to the peerage as Baron Joffe, of Liddington in the County of Wiltshire. In 2016, he was awarded the Freedom of the City of London.

Lord Joffe worked together with Humanists UK to promote the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill. In February 2003 he proposed the Bill as a Private Member's Bill to legalise physician-assisted dying. After deliberation by a Lords committee, the bill was put forward again in November 2005.

Although he retired from the House of Lords on 30 March 2015, Lord Joffe continued his work in the voluntary sector and continued to support worthy causes, via his charitable trust, until the very end.

Desert Island Discs (45 min)


Kirsty Young's castaway this week is Joel Joffe. For many years he was the chairman of Oxfam, before that he set up a hugely successful insurance company and most recently he's been campaigning for terminally ill people to have the right to die. But the career in which he has had the greatest impact is the one he was forced to give up more than 40 years ago - law.

In 1963, Joel Joffe was a young defence solicitor, so dismayed by the apartheid system of his native South Africa that he was on the brink of emigrating. Then he was asked to take over the defence of a group of ANC activists including Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Nelson Mandela.

The trial gripped the world and was all the more extraordinary because, far from aiming to secure his clients' freedom, Joel Joffe was simply fighting for them not to receive the death penalty. He tells Kirsty how, even in his prison clothes, Nelson Mandela was a figure of calm authority, who guided them through the trial.

[Taken from the original programme material for this archive edition of Desert Island Discs]
Favourite track: Under Milk Wood by Richard Burton
Book: A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Luxury: Wind-up radio.

Last On: Fri 2 Nov 2007

Listen at: Desert Island Discs

The Guardian


Joel Joffe had just arrived on British shores, after being "exited" from South Africa, when he saw a leaflet offering life membership for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society for just 20 guineas.

The human rights lawyer, who once counted Nelson Mandela among his clients, decided to sign up. Forty years on, and now a cross-bench peer, his name has become inextricably linked with the controversial cause of legalising people's right to be helped to die.

Though he has a track record in the charity sector, Lord Joffe's energies for the past three years have been concentrated on this single issue.

"I have really not focused on anything else", he says with a smile. "It has taken up more of my time than I would care to mention."

He is confident that the issue is gathering momentum, not least because of the infamous struggle of motor neurone disease sufferer Diane Pretty, who fought an unsuccessful battle in the European Court of Human Rights to be helped to die by her husband Brian.

Pretty wanted to die before she faced the swallowing and breathing difficulties that ensue in the last stages of the disease.

"The issue really has taken off and generated a valuable debate in an area which people preferred not to debate. I have been encouraged by the significant support we have received in the Lords," says Lord Joffe.

Continue reading: The Guardian - a matter of life and death