Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Henry Knorpel, QC Obituary: Henry Knorpel, QC

Skilled and dedicated ‘guardian of parliamentary democracy’

    In a tribute to a gifted and well respected legislator, Inner Temple flew their flag at half-mast when Henry Knorpel, Companion of the Bath and QC, died at the age of 93. He spent his legal career dedicated to his position of Solicitor to the Department of Health and Social Security, in essence, heading up its vast legal section. Colleagues remember him as a kind, generous leader who was happy to share and teach his superb drafting  skills.

    Born in South London, Henry lived with his parents and four siblings above the family dress shop on the Walworth Road, Elephant and Castle. Most of his life was spent in south-of-the-river Jewish communities, for which he had a great affection and loyalty.  He attended the local South London Jewish Primary school, augmented by cheder three nights a week.

    City of London School followed, including a stint as a boarder at Marlborough College, where the school was evacuated during the war. He went up to Magdalen College, Oxford and took an undergraduate and post graduate law degree. Awarded a senior scholarship by the college, he was called to the Bar by Inner Temple where he was later elected a Senior Bencher. He joined the Government legal service in 1952.

    A combination of a brilliant legal mind and dedication to his work resulted in speedy promotions until he was appointed Solicitor to the DHSS.

    In 1953 Henry married Brenda Sterling, sister of Jeffrey now Lord Sterling of Plaistow, and John Sterling. Coincidentally their maternal grandmother were school friends from a village outside Krakow.  Henry and Brenda settled in Epsom, Surrey with their daughters Melanie and Helen. 

    In his capacity as Solicitor to the DHSS, Henry represented the UK on working committees of the European Commission and the Council of Europe. In the early 1980s the British Government was called before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg on a complex point of social security law that would have led to an avalanche of unintended claims.

    An adverse ruling would have cost the taxpayer, in today’s terms, over £100 million. Rather than engaging a leading practising Silk, Henry was given the position of lead advocate.  With a rather uncharacteristic flourish ,he surprised everyone by addressing his concluding remarks to the bench of judges in fluent French. The case was successfully defended.

    On retirement from the DHSS, Henry was appointed Counsel to the Speaker of the House of Commons, giving legal advice to the Speaker, committees and departments of the House, and overseeing the drafting of Bills. Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate, MEP,remembered Henry as “one of those rare people that kept legislators on the ‘straight and narrow’ as far as Parliamentary rules, law and procedures were concerned. He had an encyclopaedic memory and an unmatched and up to date knowledge --  Apart from his undoubted skill —  he was also very generous with his time —  everyone respected and trusted Henry to safeguard parliamentary democracy and to provide first class briefing and support. He was a first class servant of the House and a very well-liked individual.”

    Every Shabbat, Henry took his daughters to Epsom Synagogue, of which he became Vice-President; represented it on various United Synagogue committees and played a key role in its merger with Sutton and District Synagogue. In recognition of this he was made a life member of the Sutton Board of Management and later served as Chairman.

    To celebrate 65 years of existence some five years ago the Sutton Jewish community created a book from a collection of divrei Torah from their members, covering all the weekly portions.

    The 88 year old Henry picked Emor with its overarching theme of holiness. He discussed the Law of the Stranger —  both entitlements and obligations —  and his concluding paragraph, describing the significance for the Jew in the Diaspora where the biblical roles are reversed, suggests this reversal “has become a part of his path to holiness.” 

    It perfectly encapsulates his views of life which he meticulously followed both in his public service and his family-centred personal life. 

    Henry is survived by his wife Brenda, brother Gerald, sister Maureen Samuels, daughters Melanie Gold and Helen Lorie, five grand children and four great-grand children. He was a man of the utmost integrity, humility and high achievement.


    Henry Knorpel: born August 18, 1924. Died December 1, 2017