James Medhurst obituary

Other Lives: Employment lawyer who used his experience of autism to campaign for the rights of disabled people

My friend James Medhurst, who has died aged 45 of Covid-19, was an employment lawyer and an eloquent campaigner for the rights of disabled people. His personal experience illustrated both the obstacles that autistic people face but also the valuable contribution they can make.

James was born in Reading to Brian Medhurst, a maths teacher, and his wife, Cathy (nee Plytas), an accountant. Academically gifted as a child, at St Bartholomew’s school, Newbury, in Berkshire, he won a place at Cambridge University to study mathematics, beginning in 1993.

But he suffered from depression while there and had to take a year out, after which he returned to the university, switched from maths to history and completed his degree in that subject. Later he realised that his condition explained his social difficulties, although he was formally diagnosed as autistic only in 2004.

Despite his strong academic record, James found law firms were reluctant to employ someone with a diagnosis of autism and a history of depression, although they were not always willing to admit this openly. However, one of James’s greatest qualities was his perseverance and he refused to give up, eventually securing a training contract with Slater & Gordon in London in 2012 and later moving to become an employment lawyer in Birmingham with Fieldfisher.

Last year he began working remotely for the law firm Royds Withy King in Oxford, and he was with them at his death.

James was an excellent writer and eventually began to produce a regular column for the New Statesman magazine, writing powerfully about all aspects of disability and discrimination. In the last months of his life he appeared on the BBC and in the mainstream press as an expert on employment issues relating to the pandemic.

A great fan of quizzes, James spent several years writing questions for the BBC’s The Weakest Link and would produce elaborate quizzes to entertain his friends at birthdays and Christmas gatherings. He loved sport, especially the Olympics, and went to as many events as he could.

James enjoyed team sports, playing for Highbury korfball club in north London and then Bec korfball club in south London and also serving on the committee of the London Korfball Association. He was determined to run the London Marathon, and devised an unorthodox diet and training regimen (including delegating long training runs to other people), as well as raising thousands of pounds via his fundraising quizzes before completing the 2007 event.

He is survived by his father and his brother, Richard.

Tamara Burnell

The GuardianTramp

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