Johan Steyn, Baron Steyn

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Steyn
Lord Steyn 2009.jpg
Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
In office
11 January 1995 – 1 October 2005
Monarch Elizabeth II
Succeeded by The Lord Mance
Personal details
Born Johan van Zyl Steyn
(1932-08-15)15 August 1932
Cape Town, South Africa
Died 28 November 2017(2017-11-28) (aged 85)
Nationality British/South African
Occupation Judge
Profession Barrister

Johan van Zyl Steyn, Baron Steyn, PC (15 August 1932 – 28 November 2017)[1] was a South African-British judge, until September 2005 a Law Lord.[2] He sat in the House of Lords as a crossbencher.[3]

Life and career[edit]

Born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1932 he studied Law at the University of Stellenbosch before reading Law 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 Heard (née Lewis) in 1977, having two sons and two daughters from a previous marriage to Jean Pollard. He had eight grandchildren (from his first marriage) and three stepgrandchildren (from his second marriage). He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1979 and was appointed a High Court Judge in 1985, receiving the customary knighthood,[4] a surprise appointment by the then Conservative Lord Chancellor Lord Hailsham. He served as presiding judge of the Northern Circuit from 1989–1991 and was appointed Lord Justice of Appeal in 1992.

On 11 January 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.[5] 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.

His Hart Lecture of May 2000 was influential in its criticism of Pepper (Inspector of Taxes) v Hart [1992] UKHL 3, a landmark decision of the House of Lords on the use of legislative history in statutory interpretation.[6][7]

He was one of the few senior judges 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. Jonathan 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 was vocal in his criticism of Tony Blair's government and its approach to human rights. He had expressed grave misgivings over the proposed powers to allow detention without trial and about the use of existing anti-terror powers.

Famous judgments[edit]


  1. ^ "Birthday's today". The Telegraph. 15 August 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2014. Lord Steyn, a former Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, 81
  2. ^ "Law lord known for liberal outlook". BBC Online. 26 November 2003. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  3. ^ "Lord Steyn peer biography". UK Parliament.
  4. ^ "No. 50078". The London Gazette. 29 March 1985. p. 4499.
  5. ^ "No. 53914". The London Gazette. 16 January 1995. p. 551.
  6. ^ Steyn, Johan (2001). "Pepper v Hart; a re-examination". Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. Oxford University Press. 21 (1). ISSN 0143-6503.
  7. ^ Vogenauer, Stefan (2005). "A retreat from Pepper v Hart? A reply to Lord Steyn". Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. Oxford University Press. 25 (4). ISSN 0143-6503.

External links[edit]