David James Stephens
Formerly Senior Lecturer in Laws, University College London.
ABGS 1955 - 1962

Jim Stephens 1962

Jim Stephens
taken at school in1962. See also footnote 2.

Jim Stephens was born on February 14th, 1943, the son of David W. Stephens and his wife Ellen, née Sullivan. The family originally lived at 240, Cardiff Road in Aberaman but later moved to 46 Broniestyn Terrace in Trecynon. Jim received his primary education at St. Margaret’s Roman Catholic School in Glannant Street, Aberdare1. He passed the 11+ examination in 1955 and moved to the County Grammar School for Boys in Trecynon. He was noted there for his expertise in chess, and he was a member of the school chess team that won the National Schools Tournament Shield of the Welsh Secondary Schools Chess Association, in the 1961-62 season. He took his O-levels in 1960, and A levels in History and Economics in 1962.

On leaving school Jim chose to take his Law degree at Aberystwyth which had a well-established law school. In due course he gained admission to Jesus College Cambridge to take the postgraduate degree in law which Cambridge, with typical perversity, called the LLB. Whilst there he was President of the Roosters. After Cambridge, Jim qualified at the Bar and then moved into academic life. He held lectureships at the Universities of Newcastle (1967–70) and Bristol (1970–72) and a Fellowship of Merton College, Oxford for short periods before moving to University College London in 1972. He stayed at UCL for the rest of his career, the only break being a year’s sabbatical in 1981 which he spent in New Zealand, a country that he greatly liked. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1998, a promotion that many felt was long overdue.

At UCL he was regarded as a congenial and co-operative colleague. He was very easy to work with. He was always willing to take his share of the teaching and the examining, and he could be relied upon to do a first-class job. Jim loved his teaching and he had a wide variety of teaching interests. In addition to Criminal Law he taught quite a number of subjects, including Contract, Tort, Commercial Law, Agency, Sale of Goods, Consumer Protection and Trade Descriptions. To all these subjects he brought a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm. The combination of these qualities with the warmth of his personality and his strong sense of humour meant that he was one of the most popular teachers on the staff. Examples of student course evaluations on Jim’s teaching included the following examples. “Fascinating lectures. Informative and interesting, witty and explanatory. I really felt that Mr. Stephens had an interest in what he was lecturing on.” “He makes sure we understand what is being taught, he also seems to care about the students.” “His tutorials were incredibly interesting and thought-provoking – why can’t all our tutors be like this?” “Mr. Stephens really makes you consider the issues and their ramifications. A genuinely nice man, excellent tutor.” Occasionally there was a critical note. One student complained: “Often there was no flow to the lecture, and the subject seemed to be jumbled” – but this writer went on to say with disarming honesty, “but that could be because my mind was inadequate to follow that particular part of the course”. Jim’s own personal favourite was, “Mr. Stephens is really interesting and a really funny old man. He is quaint and amusing and consequently a very good lecturer”.

Jim also liked research. He had a lot of different legal interests and a great intellectual curiosity. His interests ranged widely from the psychological basis of criminal responsibility to the principles of the law of agency to the rapidly developing law relating to school education. He read prodigiously. But he did not find the process of organizing the conclusions of his research and writing them up for publication an easy task. Consequently he published less over his career than many of his research-active colleagues. There was a series of valuable articles and essays in the 1970s, but then a rather intermittent flow over the next two decades. This was partly a result of his involvement in a number of other academic activities. It is a sad irony that he had just completed a sabbatical year during which he had regained his research drive. He was working on a book on the law relating to school exclusions, a subject in which he had developed a considerable interest and expertise. Education law is a subject that not many academics venture into, but Jim was well qualified by virtue of his experience as a school governor and his knowledge of the law to make a real contribution. Sadly, the fruits of that work will not now be seen.

His main contributions outside his teaching took two forms. One was to the University of London rather than to UCL. Jim was a strong supporter of the University’s programmes for external students. He played an extensive role in the development and support of the LLB programme, writing study guides, giving revision lectures both in London and Malaysia, and examining. Jim helped to make the programme by far the most successful of all the University’s external programmes, generating an income of millions of pounds per annum.

The second of his non-teaching contributions was to administration in the Department and Faculty. At various times in his career Jim discharged a number of key roles, including Departmental Tutor, Faculty Tutor with responsibility for admissions, and Chairman of the Board of Examiners. Successive Heads of Department knew that they could rely with complete confidence on his industry in dealing with a substantial workload, and just as importantly on his judgment in dealing with difficult and sensitive issues. Students with personal problems knew that they would always receive a sympathetic hearing and down-to-earth practical advice. Within UCL more generally Jim was known as an experienced Faculty Tutor who would give sound advice and make effective contributions to committee debates. He was highly valued for his ability to conduct disciplinary proceedings and grievance panels efficiently and with exemplary fairness.

Jim displayed the collegiate spirit regularly in the staff common room at morning coffee and at Faculty social events. It was a combination of several qualities: personal warmth, bonhomie, sense of humour, insatiable intellectual curiosity, and loyalty to the College. Jim was in a real sense part of the Faculty’s centre of gravity. Drawing on the Latin he was taught by Charles Morris he regularly greeted his colleagues in Latin. “Salvete, fratres!” he would exclaim as he walked in to the common room, to the bafflement of those without the benefit of a classical education. This was but one memorable aspect of a memorable man.

Outside UCL Jim played a full part in the life of the community in his home town of Berkhamsted. He was a school governor, a job that he took very seriously and put a lot of work into. He was a strong supporter of his local Roman Catholic church and attended Mass regularly. He remained very proud of his Welsh ancestry and retained a strong attachment to his Welsh roots and never lost his Welsh accent. After his parents died he kept on the family house in Broniestyn Terrace, Trecynon, and he and his daughter Charlotte used to make regular visits.

Jim died suddenly and unexpectedly on 10 July 2004, and his funeral took place on Friday 23 July. There was a requiem Mass in the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, Park Street, Berkhamsted, followed by cremation at the Chiltern Crematorium, Amersham. Later a memorial service for Jim was held on Friday 8 October at the St. Pancras Parish Church, Euston Road, London WC1.


Acknowledgements: This account of Jim’s career is based heavily on the eulogy delivered by by Professor Ian Dennis, Jim’s Head of Department at UCL.
We gratefully acknowledge his permission for giving us access to his address.
The eulogy was edited for use on this website by Dr. David E. Roberts, who was a friend of Jim & a fellow chess-team member at ABGS.


  1. The school was demolished several years ago, and the school moved to a new building built behind Tŷ Fry. New houses now occupy the original site, at a development called Saint Margaret’s Court, located on the corner of Glannant Street and Elizabeth Street.
  2. Jim attended the 1993 school reunion at the Tŷ Newydd Country Hotel. He can be seen at the extreme right of the back row in the group photograph taken at the event. The photograph can be found via the ‘Reunion and Revisits’ section of the main menu, and then by selecting ‘Reunion of the 1955-62 class in 1993’.