15 October 2021

It is with a deep sense of sadness that Newcastle University and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) have learned of the death of Professor James Law, OBE.

James will be known by all in the speech and language therapy community for his research. His work transformed children’s services, bringing focus, energy and resources to the creating of robust language development for all children.

James Law

James was Professor of Speech and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, a role he held since 2010.

In 2003 he published a seminal Cochrane Review on speech and language therapy interventions, and from 2008 to 2012 was also responsible for carrying out the biggest review of speech and language support for children in England, as one of four academics who led the Better Communication Research Programme – a project arising from the Bercow Review of Services for Children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs, and which led to the development of the What Works for Children with Speech and Language Needs database.

His work was also instrumental in the application of public health approaches to speech and language therapy in general, and child language in particular. This approach was motivated in part by his passionate belief in the need to tackle inequalities in society.

James was one of the world’s leading researchers into child language development and disorders, and particularly in the application of large population cohorts to this field. His recent work includes leading the Cost Action European research network to enhance children’s oral language skills across Europe, as well as supporting the profession to consider how to use telehealth to deliver paediatric speech and language therapy services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

James was tireless in his efforts to bring evidence-based practices to services for children with language difficulties across the UK, Europe, Australia, and beyond. He gave his time, knowledge and energy to countless SLTs and researchers with the aim of increasing the capacity of the profession worldwide to conduct high quality research which could improve the lives of children and young people with language and communication needs.

James understood that research can only bring benefits if it is recognised in policy and used in practice. His ability and dedication to building partnerships across disciplines and sectors ensured that his influence extended across academia, into government and public policy research, at home and abroad – in this way bringing real world benefits to children with language and communication needs.

In 2008 James was awarded a Fellowship of the RCSLT in recognition of his contribution to the field; in 2018 he was awarded an OBE for services to speech and language therapy. In 2021 James received an Academic Distinction Award from Newcastle University, recognising his outstanding impact within the university, nationally and internationally.

Cristina McKean, Professor of Child Language Development and Disorders, and Dr Julie Morris, Head of Newcastle University’s School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, paid tribute to Professor Law on behalf of his colleagues:

“James contributed and connected in so many different ways, locally, regionally, nationally and globally. In addition to his own direct contributions to the profession and to the field, he was a champion for research, developing and supporting the work of others.

“We have been inundated with messages from his many colleagues and friends around the world with themes of generosity, humour and inclusiveness shining through. We have lost a superb academic, therapist, colleague and friend.

“We send our very best wishes to his family, friends and all colleagues.”

Commenting on the news, RCSLT CEO Kamini Gadhok said:

“The sudden and unexpected death of Professor James Law is a profound loss to the whole profession. James was known and respected worldwide, and his contribution and commitment to research in child language development marked him out as a giant in the field of speech and language therapy.

“The RCSLT has had the privilege of working with him on a number of initiatives over the years. My heartfelt thoughts go out to his family, friends, colleagues and students.”

Book of condolences

An online book of condolences is now open for James’ friends, colleagues and community to share their tributes.