The area of Lozells in Birmingham came briefly to a standstill on 19 July 2014 as members of the African-Caribbean and legal communities joined with family and friends to pay tribute to Jeffrey Atkinson (Jeff), who died unexpectedly of a suspected heart attack on 26 May 2014. The 1200 capacity church on George Street was filled to much more than that, with standing room only, while several hundred people listened to service outside, stopping traffic on the Lozells road for over an hour. Well over 1000 people attended the interment at Handsworth cemetery, where Jeff was laid to rest with a combination of hymns and African drumming.

Jeff qualified in 1993, becoming the first Rastafarian lawyer in the country. He was inspired to study law having seen so many in his community abused and treated unfairly by the police and criminal justice system, so it was no surprise that he specialised in criminal law. In addition to his criminal practice, Jeff found time to support a number of community projects and mentor young people, as well as being a proud and loving husband and father of two daughters.

The uplifting funeral service was punctuated frequently by people who spoke of Jeff’s positive attitude – even in the face of adversity – and his willingness to encourage others to make the best of themselves and their abilities. Described by many as “larger than life”, due to his size and stature, as well as his personality, it was clear that Jeff was an inspiration and source of support to many in the African-Caribbean community and beyond.

In a legal environment where the challenges facing those fighting for the rights of the underprivileged and oppressed are increasing, and the number of those willing to take up those challenges are reducing, Jeff will be sadly missed.

Karen Bailey
Birmingham Law Society Council Member