My wife, Nony Ardill, who has died aged 68 from a brain tumour, was a leading human rights lawyer and campaigner for social justice. She was a senior lawyer for the Equality and Human Rights Commission and an adviser to the Commons justice committee. She was also a talented musician and songwriter.
Nony was born in Exeter and brought up in the unconventional, off-grid Dalditch Apiary, near Budleigh Salterton, east Devon, helping her father, Bernard Ardill, tend his 200 hives on Dartmoor. Her mother, Betty Twort, was a potter.
The family moved to Surrey when she was about 14 and Nony attended Godalming grammar school. She then studied philosophy and linguistics at York University, graduating in 1974, when she moved to Stepney, east London, to work in a children’s home. This was when she helped form the first of many bands, the feminist rock group Stepney Sisters, in which she played guitar and wrote songs. The band was embedded in the women’s liberation movement, with cropped haircuts and a repertoire of politically charged pop-soul.
In 1976 Nony became a development officer with the Ugandan Asian Unit. She was head of the Migrant Services Unit from 1977 to 1982, which is where we met. There she led a campaign opposing the mass deportation of mainly Filipino migrant workers. Through her commitment and personal warmth she brought together church groups, the Filipino community and trade unions, and won cross-party political support to halt expulsions.
In 1981, at North Islington Law Centre, Nony dealt with an array of immigration, asylum and nationality casework, helped to found the Islington women’s advice centre and provided training on legal rights in Holloway prison. In the 1990s, now with two young children, she qualified as a solicitor and wrote Undocumented Lives: Britain’s Unauthorised Migrant Workers. Meanwhile, she helped create Hi Jinx, a joyful seven-piece women’s band for which she wrote music, and played with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
After spells as policy director at the Legal Action Group (2000-05) and at Age Concern (2005-09), Nony was appointed as senior lawyer at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2009-15). She was centrally involved in its inquiry into older people and human rights in care homes and led the public sector equality duty team. During these years, Nony played lead guitar in the Morley College Jazz Orchestra and the CB Johnson Big Band, as well as joining Hackney Singers.
In 2016, Nony was appointed legal specialist to the justice committee of the House of Commons. She would describe it as perhaps her best job, working to a cross-party select committee to bring ideas together in the furtherance of social justice that were not beholden to party politics.
Nony loved gardening, our caravan and hill walking. During her illness, first diagnosed in autumn 2019, a Stepney Sisters’ CD was finally released in March 2021, when the band were interviewed by the Guardian.
We married in 2005. She is survived by me, our children, Anya and Aidan, her sister, Bridget, and her nephew and niece, Tom and Katherine.