Eric Irons OBE – UK’s first Black Magistrate

A photo of the plaque commemorating Eric Irons which is located on the wall of the National Justice Museum in Nottingham.

This post was first published on 20/10/2021.

Author: Sandy Dutczak, IALS Digital Projects and Publications Manager.

Eric George Irons OBE (1921–2007) Magistrate and campaigner for equal rights

Born in 1921 in Jamaica, Eric Irons came to the UK in 1944 to join the RAF. 

In the 1950s, Irons became an important local community figure, campaigning for better employment opportunities and education for black workers through the Nottingham and District Trades Council and community and church groups. 

Because of the prejudices shown towards black people in the 1950s, Irons set up the first community group, the Colonial Social and Sports Club, at his own house. 

Irons began work at Chilwell Ordnance Depot in the offices in 1952 where only a few black workers were employed. He began to challenge the issue of discrimination with the Nottingham and District Trades Council. As a result of his efforts of negotiation more black workers were taken on, both in the depot and in other employment; among his many achievements he challenged and helped to lift an employment embargo on black workers on buses in the city of Nottingham. 

Irons also set up three women’s groups in different areas of Nottingham and highlighted the need for the inclusion of women in community organisations.  

In 1958 Irons assisted the Nottingham City Council in addressing issues related to the Black community following race riots  in the area of St Ann’s. 

It was a lifelong passion for racial equality that inspired Eric Irons to move into public life and on 15 May 1962 he made history by becoming the first black Justice of the Peace (now know as a Magistrate) in the UK. 

Irons served on the Licensing and Betting Licensing Committees, the Juvenile and Domestic Court Panels, the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee, and served on the Home Secretary’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency as well as the Board of Visitors to the Nottingham Prison. 

Irons sat on the bench for 29 years but continued his voluntary work within the community until his death in 2007. 

Interview with Eric Irons in 1962   


As a lifelong champion for social justice, Eric Irons was awarded an OBE in 1977 and in 1999 the University of Nottingham awarded him an honorary Master of Arts Degree for improving race relations in the City. 

In October 2019, a plaque was unveiled outside the National Justice Museum in Nottingham to honour his memory. The Museum is on the site of the city’s former Shire Hall Courts where Irons presided in the 1960s. 

Eric Irons’ exemplary voluntary and professional service had a significant impact on the integration of Nottingham’s ethnic minority population within British society. He brought attention to issues of racial discrimination in both social and employment settings and sought to engage with diverse groups of immigrants in his efforts to foster a more equal society. 

A photo of the mural commissioned by East Midlands Canal and River Trust. Mural depicts Eric Irons as a young man with colours of the Jamaican flag behind him
Mural depicting Eric Irons

In 2021 a mural, painted by local artists, was commissioned by the East Midlands Canal and River Trust to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Eric Irons. 

The Magistrate’s Association 

In 2020 the Magistrate’s Association (MA) set up the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Special Interest Group (BAME SIG) to bring together magistrates who are also members of groups believed to be underrepresented within both the MA and the magistracy. 

Interview with the co-chairs of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Special Interest Group group