Lord Steyn

Lord Steyn

Johan van Zyl Steyn, Baron Steyn, PC (born 15 August 1932) is a South African/English jurist, and until September 2005 a Law Lord.[1]

Life and career

Born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1932 he studied Law at the University of Stellenbosch before reading English as a Rhodes Scholar at University College, Oxford. He was called to the Bar in South Africa in 1958 and appointed senior counsel of the Supreme Court of South Africa in 1970.

As a result of his opposition to apartheid in his native South Africa, he settled in the UK in 1973 joining the English Bar and building a distinguished international commercial law practice. He married Susan Leonore in 1977, having two sons and two daughters from a previous marriage to Jean Pollard. Now he has seven grandchildren (from his first marriage) and has three from his step children (from his second marriage). He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1979 and was appointed a High Court Judge in 1985, a surprise appointment by the then Conservative Lord Chancellor Lord Hailsham. He was served as presiding judge of the Northern Circuit from 1989–1991 and was appointed Lord Justice of Appeal in 1992.

In 1995 he was elevated to a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and was created a life peer as Baron Steyn, of Swafield in the County of Norfolk. As a Law Lord he achieved prominence for his liberal views and espousal of human rights. He was a fierce critic of Augusto Pinochet's claim to stand immune from prosecution. His record of open criticism of Camp X-ray at Guantanamo Bay led to pressure from the UK government that he make himself unavailable for the hearing on the indefinite detention of suspects under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 that began on 4 October 2004. The decision in the latter case caused the government to review its policy of indefinite detention of terror suspects and led to the equally controversial Terrorism Bill 2005. His judicial work in the House of Lords has been instrumental in weaving the Human Rights Act 1998 into the fabric of English law. He also drew upon his background as a commercial lawyer.

He was one of the few senior jurists to support calls for modernisation of the English legal system and abolition of the role of Lord Chancellor. Whilst a Lord of Appeal he refrained from speaking in the House, instead expressing his views on democracy and human rights through judgments and lectures.

He retired as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary on 30 September 2005. Lord Mance was elevated from Lord Justice of Appeal on 1 October 2005 to replace him. Since his retirement he was for a period the chairman of the human rights organisation JUSTICE and has been vocal in his criticism of Tony Blair's government and its approach to human rights. He has expressed grave misgivings over the proposed powers to allow detention without trial and about the use of existing anti-terror powers.

Famous judgments

  • R v Bournewood Community and Mental Health NHS Trust Ex p. L [1999] 1 AC 458

Jackson v Attorney General [2005] UKHL 56 - controversial comments on Parliamentary Supremacy and its common law foundations (and the possibility for the courts to invalidate unconstitutional statutes)

Arklow vs. MacLean and Others UKPC 51, 1999 Privy Council London