Lawyer Jonathan Cooper, who died suddenly at the age of 58, has been the driving force behind many human rights campaigns over the past 30 years. Exuberant, knowledgeable, and admired by a large circle of friends, he was at the forefront of efforts to decriminalize homosexuality around the world and a central figure in educating a generation of law enforcement officials. on human rights.
Cooper may not have been a prominent public figure or a highly paid QC, but as a lawyer he was a tireless crusader, imagining legal challenges and ingenious campaign strategies. Geoffrey Robertson QC, co-director of Doughty Street Chambers, where Cooper practiced for most of his professional life, described him as a brilliant scholar providing “ammunition” for lawyers to win court battles.
His most daring initiative was the Human Dignity Trust, a charity he created in 2011 with Tim Otty QC. The aim was to initiate or support strategic litigation abroad to challenge laws that persecute individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Many punitive and discriminatory laws in Commonwealth countries are, as Cooper has often pointed out, the legacy of British colonial rule.
Test cases have been conducted and LGBT activists have helped in Belize, Uganda, Jamaica, Kenya, Cyprus and other countries. Among the hurdles Cooper had to overcome was the Charity Commission’s original decision – ultimately overturned – that the trust’s activities were not “in the public interest” enough. The work of the trust continues: 71 countries still criminalize private, homosexual and consensual sexual activity, and in some the penalty is death.
After stepping down as Managing Director of HDT in 2016, he had recently worked with Helena Kennedy QC on a legal framework for a bill banning “conversion therapy”, which attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation. . “He was really inventive,” she said, “a great contributor.”
In previous years, Cooper had been involved in a series of landmark cases and campaigns, including those fighting the ban on gay men in the armed forces and the mistreatment of asylum seekers in Greece.
Known in the bedrooms as Jonny, he had a knack for making people feel like they were the center of his attention. Passionate about establishing equality for LGBT people, he has also championed many other causes where he believed injustices should be tackled, including supporting pro-democracy activists in Belarus.
Jonathan was born in Salford. Her father, Peter Cooper, was a professor of psychology at the University of Manchester, and her mother, Jackie (born French), a market researcher. Three years later, in 1965, the family moved to London, where their parents started a business that pioneered the use of focus groups to develop commercial brands.
In 1973 the family moved to Devon, although his parents continued to work weekdays in London. Jonathan attended Dartington Hall School, an independent and progressive school located near Totnes. He went to Goldsmiths, University of London to study psychology, but left after contracting glandular fever. He then moved on to the University of Kent, where he studied history.
According to art historian Kevin Childs, his partner since 1992, Cooper had “never been in the closet” and had become aware of HIV / AIDS early on. His first job was as AIDS Coordinator for the Hemophilia Society, which took him to Canada for a year.
Convinced that vulnerable people needed legal help, he decided to study law. In 1992 he was called to the bar and joined Doughty Street Chambers, where one of his colleagues was Keir Starmer, now leader of the Labor Party.
Cooper has always been more interested in public policy than in advocacy in the courts. He became legal director of civil rights group Liberty, then joined the legal reform organization Justice at the helm of its human rights project shortly after the Labor Party’s election victory in 1997.
It was an important moment. He helped pave the way for the Human Rights Act 1998 and for many years trained public officials on the implications of the legislation. He organized regular seminars for diplomats from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and officials from other departments. He also edited the European Human Rights Law Review. In 2007, he was appointed OBE “for human rights services”.
A contributor of opinion pieces to the Guardian and other publications, he defended Starmer when the Labor leader was criticized for buying his mother a field – which turned out to be a family donkey sanctuary. Cooper recalled his visit to the shelter years earlier and the care the animals received.
In 2018, he mounted an anti-Brexit campaign declaring his hometown Totnes to be an independent city-state, and handing out “passports” to others who remained to protest being forced out of the city. ‘EU.
Cooper, a member of the Granta Trust board, had been in the Scottish Highlands with members of the Rausing family, the philanthropists who publish Granta Books. He was walking along the edge of a loch with Kevin and his friends when, shortly after saying it was one of the most beautiful views he had ever seen, he collapsed and couldn’t be resuscitated.
He and Kevin entered into a civil partnership in 2008. Kevin survives him, along with his sisters, Diana and Helen, four nieces and a nephew.