In Memory of Bob Hepple

by | Aug 24, 2015

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About Sandra Fredman

Sandra Fredman FBA KC (hon) is the Professor of the Laws of the British Commonwealth and the USA at Oxford University. She is Honorary Professor of Law at the University of Cape Town and a fellow of Pembroke College Oxford. She was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2005 and was made an Honorary Queen’s Counsel in 2012. She has written and published widely on anti-discrimination law, human rights law and labour law, with a specific focus on gender and socio-economic rights.


Sandra Fredman ‘In Memory of Bob Hepple’ (OxHRH Blog, 24 August 2015) <> [Date of Access]|Sandra Fredman ‘In Memory of Bob Hepple’ (OxHRH Blog, 24 August 2015) <> [Date of Access]

It is with a heavy heart that I write to say farewell to Bob Hepple, who died in the early hours of Friday 21st August. There will be time for comprehensive reflections on Bob’s life and work. Here, I want to pay tribute of a very personal nature. Bob was an inspiration, a mentor and, above all, a friend. His unswerving commitment to equality and justice, not just in political and professional life, but also in his personal relationships, will be his enduring legacy.

I first met Bob in the High Court in the Strand in the mid 1980s, when I was a trainee solicitor at Lawford and Co, acting for the trade unions in the well-known case of CCSU v Minister for the Civil Service [1985] 1 AC 374] . As part of our challenge to Margaret Thatcher’s ban on national trade unions at GCHQ, Bob had been briefed to give an expert opinion on whether the prerogative power to employ civil servants had been extinguished during the war and therefore could not be used to unilaterally change trade unionists’ terms and conditions. I had left South Africa only a few years before, and Bob’s strong South African roots and the way he had been able to reorient his quest for justice in South Africa to an equally strong quest for justice in labour in the UK were a lasting inspiration. This was only the start of our long friendship, during which Bob was not only full of unfailing support and encouragement, but also exercised a formative influence on both the values and the intellectual rigour which have informed my work.

Bob’s achievements during his lifetime are truly extraordinary. To have acted as legal adviser to Nelson Mandela in his trial for incitement in 1962, and later escaped from South Africa having been arrested at Liliesleaf Farm, Rivonia with leaders of the ANC in July 1963, would have been sufficient for most people in their careers. But Bob went on to become one of the foremost labour lawyers both in the UK, and internationally, through his work for the International Labour Organization. He became a household name for trade unions and labour lawyers with the publication of Hepple and O’Higgins Encyclopaedia of Labour Law; and all undergraduate law students knew him from Hepple and Matthews on Tort. In my own early career, I was honoured to have been invited by him to co-author two editions of his labour law textbook, Labour Law and Industrial Relations in Great Britain. His early work on Race, Jobs and the Law in Great Britain was only the start of an unceasing commitment to equality and anti-discrimination law, culminating in his seminal work Equality: The Legal Framework, already in its second edition. Even after his retirement from his position as Master of Clare College, Cambridge, he continued to write voraciously, publishing papers in law journals in both the UK and elsewhere which were each in its own way a contribution to the field.

This wholehearted commitment to equality and labour law in the UK did not in any sense diminish his work for South Africa. In the early years of the new democracy, he participated actively in the drafting of its new labour laws, and his contribution to labour law continued until just before his death. In fact, in September he was due to have launched his book on Laws Against Strikes, written with Silvana Sciarra and Rochelle Le Roux, in South Africa. In 2014, he was awarded the South African Order of Luthuli (Gold), the country’s highest presidential honour for ‘exceptional contribution to the struggle for democracy and human rights, nation-building, peace and conflict resolution.’ To have been honoured in both the UK, where he was knighted in 2004, and in South Africa, were a fitting tribute to a man whose life and work have been seminal to the development of human rights, democracy and labour law in both countries and internationally.

For all his achievements, which he wore so modestly, it is for his kindness, warmth and deep integrity that I will always remember him. Bob was the most generous of mentors and friends: his advice and support were crucial at every step of my own career and his good sense and empathy were unfailing. When I visited him a week before his death, and we both knew that this would be the last goodbye, his parting words were unfaltering. Whatever happens, we must never stop working for justice and equality.

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