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The Death Penalty Project pays tribute to Nancy Anderson

  • News
  • 6 Dec 2021

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Nancy Anderson, a lawyer, human rights defender, and teacher, who we were privileged to call our dear friend and colleague for over 20 years. Her kindness and dedication to human rights inspired everyone fortunate enough to know her.

“Nancy was an amazing person, who devoted her life to assisting the poor, marginalised and those without a voice in society – especially prisoners on death row, but also many others who were lost within the criminal justice system. We worked with her on the internship programme at the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights for many years and know that it was something Nancy really loved and was proud of. Everyone who was lucky enough to be one of Nancy’s interns found the experience as inspirational as it was unforgettable. We are very grateful for the time and knowledge she shared with us, as one of The Death Penalty Project’s core advisors and allies. We will miss her greatly.” Saul Lehrfreund and Parvais Jabbar, Co-Executive Directors, The Death Penalty Project.

In 1969, Nancy arrived in Jamaica, from the United States, as a young Peace Corps volunteer. She spent the rest of her life in the country which she loved, practicing law and advocating for the rights of the most disadvantaged members of society. She eventually became a citizen and in 2016, she received Jamaica’s Order of Distinction in honour of her work and achievements.

Nancy was a highly skilled lawyer and was part of the legal team in the ground-breaking 2013 case, representing Shanique Myrie versus Barbados, at the Caribbean Court of Justice. Nancy wanted to leave the system better and more just than she had found it; understanding how integral free and fair elections are to upholding the foundations of democracy and human rights, she also helped to establish the election-monitoring group, Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections with Dr Lloyd Barnett.

Over the course of her life, Nancy achieved many successes, including several breakthroughs in making legal aid more accessible across Jamaica. As director of the Kingston Legal Aid Clinic from 1990 and as the director of the Legal Aid Council at Jamaica’s Ministry of Justice from 2002, she dedicated herself to ensuring more people could access justice, particularly those with vulnerabilities, such as people experiencing mental illness.

From 2003 until her passing, she worked as co-ordinator and then Board member, at the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights (IJCHR). It was in this capacity that she took on many UK interns, all of whom, now practicing lawyers, still hold her in the highest regard. She also taught at the Norman Manley Law School, where she mentored scores of Caribbean students. Nancy was a true champion of young people and selflessly invested a great deal of time supporting those she mentored, so that they could achieve their potential.

We asked some of the barristers who interned with Nancy to share their memories of her.

“The internship I did with the IJCHR all those years ago was inspirational. A cliché, but true. I got so much experience from it, in such a relatively short period of time. That was in large part down to Nancy, a modest but determined individual who knew the Jamaican legal system like the back of her hand, and made things happen. She took me and Tom (the other intern) under her wing and gave us opportunities we would have never had in the UK. Having looked at some of the obituaries online it is nice, and entirely unsurprising, to see she inspired so many others. She made a real difference to the lives of many. She really was an amazing woman.David Sellwood, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers

“I first met her in 2002 on a death row internship. The cliché ‘force of nature’ is somehow inadequate to describe Nancy. For a start, she was a superb lawyer. But it was her enthusiasm, kindness, and relentless pursuit of justice that were so infectious and distinctive. In 2009 she managed to secure access to the entire Jamaican prison estate for me to write a report on prison conditions for The Death Penalty Project. That was typical Nancy – making things happen.  She was humble, entirely without affectation, and acutely gregarious. At times, it could seem as though she knew everyone in Jamaica. Through the death penalty internship scheme at the IJCHR she mentored a number of English lawyers who have gone on to practice at the highest levels. Most importantly, she improved the lives of thousands of Jamaicans. But she also had an indelible effect on my life, and I will miss her dearly.” James Robottom, Barrister, Matrix Chambers

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