LAG pays tribute to Stephen Knafler QC
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Marc Bloomfield
We are very sad to hear of the death of Stephen Knafler QC and send our condolences to his family and friends. We will publish a full obituary in Legal Action.
Esther Pilger, LAG’s publishing director, worked with Stephen for many years:
Stephen was editor of Community Care Law Reports since they began in 1997 and co-authored books including Support for Asylum-Seekers (with Sue Willman and Stephen Pierce) and an early edition of Repairs: tenants’ rights with Jan Luba. I kept nudging him to do a community care casebook, to which he finally agreed in 2016. Though rather than my modest idea, we ended up with two major books, Adult Social Care Law and Children’s Social Care Law, which between them ran to nearly 3,000 pages. The speed at which the cases spanning nearly 50 years went from Steve’s brain to page, with accompanying succinct analysis, was quite something to behold. Much will be said about his contribution to the law – he was one of the best, most able, lawyers of his generation – but he was also kind and thoughtful and funny – sometimes intentionally, sometimes not! He was generous with his time and LAG benefited enormously from his commitment to us. I will miss him very much.
Carol Storer, LAG’s interim director, says:
After Stephen moved from being a solicitor to joining the Bar, he was frequently instructed by my colleagues and me when I worked in the legal team at Shelter. Indeed, when we took on a large number of s55 cases where asylum-seekers were being refused support if they were deemed not to have claimed asylum ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’, Stephen’s insight and work rate was prodigious. He was superb – able to grasp the essence of a case, brilliant at drafting and strategic. Many cases were lodged by Shelter and other practices. The cases were heard together and the claims succeeded.
Stephen was at Garden Court Chambers from 2000 to 2016, and was head of chambers from 2013 to 2016. He worked in civil and public law. Garden Court Chambers said of Stephen:
He is irreplaceable and his loss as one of the Bar’s true legal heroes, leaves a chasm.
After Garden Court, Stephen went to Landmark Chambers, whose tribute to him is very moving:
Stephen was someone who became a lawyer for other people’s benefit, and spent his professional life trying to make the law deliver solutions for the most vulnerable in our society. His main areas of practice – social care and immigration –showed where he chose to make a difference. These areas involved state powers which interacted with people at the most difficult times of their lives, and where people desperately needed the state to act properly. Whether he was acting for a person seeking a better immigration status, a person seeking social welfare support or a local authority trying to do its best in an impossible situation, Stephen was active in these areas because they were cases where the law was important to those in need, and where getting it right really made an immeasurable difference.
Stephen had only just moved to Doughty Street Chambers when he was taken ill. He was in hospital for a short period and died last Saturday (24 October). Doughty Street’s tribute includes this insight:
Stephen was a greatly admired and respected practitioner of exceptional ability, and a passionate figure in human rights law for over 30 years. It is a terrible loss, there is no doubt that the Bar will be diminished by his absence.
If you search the LAG website for references to Stephen, there are 148 matches. Each represents a book or an article he has written for us or a training course or conference he spoke at.
LAG mourns a brilliant lawyer, a respected LAG author and a part of the LAG family. We will miss him enormously.

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