Joel Joffe, Baron Joffe

Joel Goodman Joffe, Baron Joffe, CBE (12 May 1932 – 18 June 2017) was a South African-born British lawyer and Labour peer in the House of Lords.

The Lord Joffe
Member of the House of Lords
In office
22 February 2000  30 March 2015
Personal details
Joel Goodman Joffe

(1932-05-12)12 May 1932
Johannesburg, Transvaal, South Africa
Died18 June 2017(2017-06-18) (aged 85)
Liddington, Wiltshire, England, UK
SpouseVanetta Pretorius
Alma materUniversity of Witwatersrand
OccupationHuman rights lawyer

Life and career

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, to the Joffe family. His mother was born in Mandatory Palestine and his father was born in Lithuania, Joffe grew up in a Jewish household before being sent to a Catholic boarding school.[1] He was educated at the University of Witwatersrand (BCom, LLB 1955), and worked as a human rights lawyer 1958–65, including as defence attorney of the leadership of the ANC at the 1963-4 Rivonia Trial, helping to represent Nelson Mandela and his co-defendants.[2]

He married the artist Vanetta Pretorius in 1962 and moved with her to the United Kingdom in 1965 after being refused entry to Australia as he was considered "undesirable".[3] Once in the UK he worked in the financial services industry, setting up Hambro Life Assurance with Sir Mark Weinberg as well as in the voluntary sector.[4]

Joffe chaired the Swindon and Marlborough Health Authority and the Ridgeway Hospital and was a member of The Royal Commission on the Care of the Elderly. He was associated with Oxfam in various roles between 1982 and 2001, including being its Chair 1995–2001. He was a trustee of many different charities and actively pursued a range of charitable activities through the Joffe Charitable Trust Joffe Charitable Trust which he set up with his wife Vanetta in 1968.[2][4]

He was awarded Honorary Doctorates from the Open University (1995), De Montfort University (2000), University of the Witwatersrand (2001), Brunel University (2004) and the University of Bath (2006). In 2016, he was awarded the Freedom of the City of London.[5]

He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1999 New Year Honours,[6] and made a life peer on 16 February 2000, being raised to the peerage as Baron Joffe, of Liddington in the County of Wiltshire.[7]

In February 2003 he proposed as a Private Member's Bill the "Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill",[8] which would legalise physician-assisted dying.[9] After deliberation by a Lords committee, the bill was put forward again in November 2005. On 12 May 2006, the Bill was debated once again in the House of Lords and an amendment to delay its introduction by six months was carried by a margin of 148–100, halting progress of the bill in that session.[10]

He appeared on the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs on 28 October 2007.[11]

Joffe retired from the House of Lords on 30 March 2015.[12]

In 2017 Joffe appeared along with surviving defendants at the Rivonia Trial, Denis Goldberg, Andrew Mlangeni and Ahmed Kathrada, along with fellow defence lawyers George Bizos and Denis Kuny, in a documentary film entitled Life is Wonderful, directed by Sir Nicholas Stadlen,[13] which tells the story of the trial. The title reflects Goldberg's words to his mother at the end of the trial on hearing that he and his comrades had been spared the death sentence.[14][15][16][17]

A Jewish atheist and a humanist in his beliefs, Joel was a devoted member and patron of Humanists UK, which campaigns on ethical issues like assisted dying and for a secular state in the UK.[18]

Joffe died on 18 June 2017 at his home in Liddington after a short illness at the age of 85.[19][20] His life was celebrated in many tributes and obituaries.[3][21][22][23]


  • Joel Joffe, The Rivonia Story, Mayibuye Books, Cape Town, 1995
  • Joel Joffe, The State Vs. Nelson Mandela: The Trial That Changed South Africa, Oneworld Publications, 2007


  1. "Joel Joffe (1932–2017)". Oxfam.
  2. " - Your favorite newspapers and magazines". Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  3. Battersby, John (26 June 2017). "Lord Joffe obituary". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  4. paulabs. "Joel Joffe". Joffe Trust. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  5. "Joel Joffe | South African History Online". Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  6. "No. 55354". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 1998. p. 8.
  7. "No. 55771". The London Gazette. 22 February 2000. p. 1969.
  8. "Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill [HL]". Public Bills before Parliament. United Kingdom Parliament. 8 January 2004. Retrieved 8 November 2007.
  9. "Bid to legalise assisted suicide". BBC News. 20 February 2003. Retrieved 8 November 2007.
  10. "Lords vote to block assisted suicide bill for terminally ill". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  11. Joffe was the featured guest on BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs on 28 October 2007. During the programme, Joffe mentioned his grandfather's role in writing "Hava Nagila". In the programme notes, the listing for "Hava Nagila" states "Composer: Bashir Am Israelim", meaning that either this is an alias for Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, to whom Joffe was clearly referring in the programme, or the programme notes contain an erroneous entry.
  12. Retired members of the House of Lord
  13. Life is Wonderful Q&A on Vimeo
  14. Life is Wonderful trailer on YouTube
  15. Stadlen, Nick (Nicholas) (22 July 2018). "Unsung heroes: the men who stood trial with Mandela". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  16. Green, Pippa (13 June 2018). "Apartheid history: Overlooked Rivonia triallists feted in Life is Wonderful". Business Day. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  17. "'Life is Wonderful' screening reinforces call for such histories in curriculum". Nelson Mandela University. 15 June 2018. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  18. "Lord Joffe CBE". Humanists UK. 19 June 2017. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  19. "Statement on the death of Lord Joffe | Press releases | Oxfam GB". Oxfam GB. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  20. "Tributes paid to Lord Joel Joffe, who has passed away aged 85". Swindon Advertiser. 19 June 2017.
  21. Battersby, John (29 June 2017). "Lord Joel Joffe passes away, aged 85". The South African. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  22. "Obituary: Joel Joffe died on June 18th". The Economist. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  23. SABC Digital News (20 June 2017), Tributes pour in for Mandela's former lawyer Lord Joel Joffe, archived from the original on 21 December 2021, retrieved 21 November 2017

Further reading

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