Sir Bob Hepple, 1934-2015

A leading campaigner for justice in South Africa who went on to become master of a Cambridge college has died.

September 3, 2015
Obituary: Sir Bob Hepple, 1934-2015
Source: Photoshot

Sir Bob Hepple was born in Johannesburg on 11 August 1934 and studied at the University of the Witwatersrand (1954-57), where he later served as professor of law (1959-61).

Coming from a family committed to multiracial human rights – his father was a member of South Africa’s parliament for the opposition Labour Party – he experienced bullying at school, was arrested while chairman of the Student Liberal Association and narrowly escaped expulsion from Witwatersrand.

When Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962 and his attorney Joe Slovo was prevented from representing him, Sir Bob stepped into the breach and helped to mount the defence. A year later, however, he was caught by police at the secret headquarters of the African National Congress and brought to trial. Although he was released, this was conditional on his turning state’s witness, so he and his then wife Shirley were smuggled out the country and made their way to London.

To gain British legal qualifications, Sir Bob secured a place at Clare College, Cambridge (1964-66), after which he was called to the Bar and found work as a lecturer in law at the University of Nottingham (1966-68).

He returned to Clare and Cambridge as an assistant lecturer and then lecturer in law (1968-76) before a brief period as professor of comparative social and labour law at the University of Kent (1976-77).

He took on a more public role as chairman of the industrial tribunals for England and Wales (1977-82), becoming professor of English law at University College London (1982-93) and ending his career as master of Clare College (1993-2003) as well as Cambridge professor of law (1995-2001).

His experiences in South Africa sensitised Sir Bob to discrimination in Britain and made him a leading campaigner for legislation in this area. He published Race, Jobs and the Law in Britain in 1968, during the debates that led to the Race Relations Act in the same year.

He was later appointed to the Commission for Racial Equality and the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. Even in retirement, he chaired the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2004-07).

Sir Bob’s major recent books include Labour Laws and Global Trade (2005), Equality: The Legal Framework (2011) and Young Man with the Red Tie: A Memoir of Mandela and the Failed Revolution, 1960-63 (2013).

He died on 21 August and is survived by his wife Mary Coussey and two children from an earlier marriage.

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