He is an opera-loving law lord, renowned for his braininess, who cycles to work and spends holidays cycling round Europe. Often hailed as a liberal lawyer and now in trouble for failing to declare his unpaid directorship of Amnesty International while ruling on General Pinochet's extradition, he is described as "authoritarian", with a number of right-wing friends. A party animal, he resides among the smart set in a Pounds 1 million house near Hampstead Heath in London. Known as Lenny, Lord Hoffmann, 64, appears an intriguing mixture.
He was born near Cape Town, the son of a Jewish lawyer. But while some maintain Lord Hoffmann left South Africa because of his dislike of the apartheid regime, others say he is not a political person and did not become a high-profile anti-apartheid campaigner.
Ambitious from an early age to become a judge, he took a law degree at the University of Cape Town, before becoming a Rhodes scholar at Queen's College, Oxford. By 1958, he was an advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa, but soon returned to England as a law fellow at University College, Oxford for 12 years.
He became a QC in 1977 and was much in demand as a barrister, able to command huge fees. Made a life peer in 1995, he called for a law of privacy and amended the recent Defamation Bill so that MPs such as Neil Hamilton could waive parliamentary privilege to pursue libel actions.
More recently, he ruled that police officers who suffered trauma at Hillsborough should not receive damages when the bereaved relatives had been sent away with nothing.
Described as "completely unpompous", fond of female company, with plenty of friends and interests, he has served on the board of English National Opera and on the Arts Council advisory committee on London orchestras, and was a member of the Royal Commission on Gambling.