Joel Joffe: a memory of a great man

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I attended the memorial service for Lord Joel Joffe this morning. I had the good fortune to know Joel towards the end of his life. He was a good friend of tax justice by providing funding and and practical support, not least in the Lords.

Joel was quite remarkable. Pretty much his last act in his native South Africa before having little choice but leave and come to the UK in 1965 was to defend ANC activists. As a young lawyer he did, when no one else would, defend Nelson Mandela and his colleagues at this 1964 trial.

Joel only ever got one of his ANC clients off a charge: the rest got life sentences. But that was his great achievement: the state had demanded the death penalty. As Nelson Mandela joked in later life Joel was the man who got him 27 years in prison. But that changed the course of South African and world history.

Joel did not shout about what he did. A recurring theme of this morning was his modesty. But he was a massive champion of social justice. He empathy was seemingly limitless and in tribute his daughter sang this song from Joan Baez this morning (and beautifully, too). I thought I would share it in memory of a truly great man who really did change history, who was also a simple delight to know and who really did understood the true power of charity. And that there, but for fortune, go you and I.