Sir Jonathan Clarke, a former Law Society president and one of the first solicitor advocates to be appointed as a recorder of the Crown court, has died at the age of 94. 


Sir Jonathan Clarke

Clarke was born in 1930, and was the eldest of three sons and one daughter of Dennis and Carol Clarke. He qualified as a lawyer aged 26 and met Sue soon after. Following their marriage in November 1956, they travelled on a cargo ship to Africa and settled in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia).

Upon their return, Jonathan joined a legal practice in Swindon, and was appointed as a recorder of the Crown court in 1972. He became president of the Law Society of England and Wales in 1980-1981, and was made Knight Bachelor in 1981.

After leading the campaign to change the law to allow solicitors to become judges, he was appointed as a circuit judge in 1983. He took up a position on the South-West circuit, where he was the senior family judge. He retired in 1993 after a heart attack but continued working as an appeal judge for the then Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, and was governor of the College of Law for many years.

He was an accomplished skier and took up golf (for a few years), but sailing was always his passion. After owning many boats and sailing in Greece, Tunisia, Turkey, and many other places in the Mediterranean, he bought a boat in America and sailed back across the Atlantic via the Azores and Gibraltar in 2001.

HHJ Clarke

His Honour Judge Clarke

A stroke in 2004 left him confined to a wheelchair, yet he bravely continued to keep his mind active, completing an Open University degree and always planning new adventures. He did all he could to live fully, and was generous, courageous, determined, and caring.

In his inaugural address as Law Society president, he acknowledged the difficulties facing the profession as it moved 'from the surly seventies into the exciting eighties and beyond'. However he concluded that 'this great profession can look forward to the future with optimism and that, so long as our free society endures, solicitors will be an essential and a respected part of that society'. 

He was a loving father to Nicola, Sarah, Timothy and Juliette, a proud grandfather to Tom, Harriet, Kit, Georgie, Amy, Anna, Zak and Katie, and a delighted great-grandfather to Freddie and Sully.


Pictured top of page: Sir Jonathan Clarke with his family at the Law Society


This article is now closed for comment.