Renowned as one of the UK’s most liberal judges, South African-born Lord Steyn was a prominent opponent of apartheid and opposed Tony Blair and George Bush over the Iraq War and Guantanamo.
Called to the Bar in South Africa in 1958, he was appointed Senior Counsel in 1970. In 1973 he emigrated to Britain, where he began his legal career again.
He took Silk after six years and in 1985 he was appointed to the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court. He was promoted to the Court of Appeal in 1992 and three years later took a place on the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords.
Politically outspoken, in 2003 Lord Steyn accused the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, of using ‘weasel words’ to justify his policy on asylum seekers, declared the US regime at Guantanamo Bay ‘a monstrous failure of justice’ and branded the system of trial by military tribunal as no more than a ‘kangaroo court’ that ‘makes a mockery of justice’.
In 2004 Lord Bingham of Cornhill was asked not to include Lord Steyn on the nine-judge panel to decide on the legality of detaining foreign terror suspects without trial. Lord Steyn agreed to stand down, but later told The Times that the government had raised a ‘truly flimsy objection’ and said it had been the first time that a government had ever sought and obtained an alteration in the composition of the House of Lords’ Judicial Committee.
Lord Steyn died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 28 November 2017, at the age of 85.