Born in Sierra Leone on 17 May 1928, Dr John Anthony Roberts distinguished himself as the first person of African ancestry to be made a QC in England and Wales. His lifelong passion for the guiding principal of equality before the law, and commitment to diversity and inclusion helped shape a long, and distinguished career.
Dr Roberts came to the UK in 1952 to join the RAF, where he first qualified as an accountant. Between 1964 and 1969 he worked as a civil servant, during which time he read law part-time at the Inns of Court School of Law. He was called to the Bar (Gray’s Inn) in 1969, becoming a Master of the Bench in 1996. In 1972 he became a Member of Lincoln’s Inn.
Dr Roberts was a man credited with many firsts, including becoming the first known person of African ancestry to become Head of Chambers in 1975. He became the first man of African ancestry to be appointed as a QC in 1988. In 1992, he became the first person of African ancestry to be appointed by the British Government to serve as a High Court Judge of the Supreme Courts of the British Virgin Islands, and Anguilla, British West Indies. In addition to the English Bar, Dr Roberts may have set a record by being called to the Bars of ten other countries including: Jamaica (1973), Sierra Leone (1975), Trinidad & Tobago (1978), Bahamas (1984), St Kitts & Nevis (1988), Antigua (2002), Barbados (2002), Bermuda (2003), Anguilla (2006) and Grenada (2007).
Although an innately modest and humble man, Dr Roberts possessed a strong belief in his own abilities, something that enabled him to achieve the distinction of being the first known person of African ancestry to be the Head of his Chambers in England and Wales. His Chambers at 2 Stone Buildings were inclusive and diverse, with mixed race, Asian, white, African and Caribbean members. He was reputed to have been the first Head of Chambers to allegedly accept seven female barristers all at once, something unheard of in 1975.
Dr Roberts accepted the role of Bencher of the Council of Legal Education in Sierra Leone in 1990; and tutored on Advocacy for a period between 1990 and 1992 at the Inns of Court School of Law in London. He actively championed the rights of black and ethnic minority groups in the UK, being a former President of the British West Indian Ex-Servicemen and Ex-Service Women’s Association and joint President of the British Caribbean Association, UK. Dr Roberts was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 2011, for services to the Administration of Justice, Diversity and Equal Opportunities. He died aged 88, in June 2016.