Humanists UK mourns its patron, Joel Joffe

19 June, 2017

Joel Joffe at the Arts Centre, Swindon Festival of Literature. Photo: Alan Owens.

Humanists UK has learned with great sadness of the death of its patron of many years, the distinguished human rights lawyer Lord (Joel) Joffe CBE. His death comes as a profound loss to the humanist movement, and Joel will be remembered for his lifetime of good works and his support for a range of humanist causes, and prominent among them the right to die.

Joel started his life in South Africa in 1932. As a young man, his sense of justice was first awakened by his acute awareness of the wrongs of South African apartheid. He was drawn from a young age to want to make the world a better place, and in the 1950s began a degree in law at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Upon graduation, immediately set to work as a human rights lawyer. His rising star led to his crossing paths with ANC leader Nelson Mandela, and Joel served as his defence attorney at the infamous Rivonia Trial that ended with Mandela being sent to prison.

After moving to the UK, Joel’s interest in human rights and equality took a wider ambit, and he worked in the life insurance industry as well as for major hospitals, health authorities, and the then-fledgling charity Oxfam. He gave generous support to a number of charities through a trust in his own name, the Joffe Charitable Trust, and through this was also Humanists UK’s most generous donor over many years.

Joel’s enormous contributions to civil society, both in the UK and previously in South Africa, led to his being created a life peer in 2000. In 2003, with support from Humanists UK, he put forward the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill in 2003 and 2005, both times fomenting national debates on the right to die. Joffe eventually retired from the House of Lords in 2015, but maintained his keen interest in the progress of assisted dying legalisation efforts, as well as the wider work of Humanists UK for a secular state and a tolerant world where reason and kindness prevail.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘Over the course of his life, Joel was driven by a sense that the world was full of injustice but that we as human beings, by applying our intellects and engaging our hearts, were more than capable of creating a just world for us all. This optimism made him a relentless campaigner and funder for a number of causes that were dear to his heart, and we at Humanists UK were very lucky to have been among them. We will remember Joel fondly for his towering intellect, big heart, and tremendous sense of fun, along with the many great contributions he made towards a fairer society for all.’


For further information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on 020 3675 0959 or

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and campaigning work, we’re committed to creating a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK has well over 150 patrons who support its work in various ways through their expertise and prominence in various fields. Existing patrons include significant figures from the spheres of science, philosophy, human rights activism, politics, the arts, and broadcasting. The President of Humanists UK is the writer and comedian Shappi Khorsandi, who is supported by Vice Presidents Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Professor A C Grayling, and Polly Toynbee. For a full list of patrons, see

For more on Humanists UK’s work to secure the right to die, visit