Joyce was educated at Whitley Bay Grammar School and Newcastle University where she gained first class honours in French and was first in her year. She subsequently gained an M.Sc. in International Relations at the London School of Economics. She worked as a French language lecturer and tutor at the University of Bath and Durham University.
She served as Member of the European Parliament for Tyne South and Wear and Tyne and Wear successively from 1979 to 1989, and entered the House of Commons in the 1987 election as Member of Parliament for Gateshead East.
Joyce served as prisons minister, Minister for Europe, and as a junior agriculture minister.
In April 2006, it was announced that Quin had been nominated for a life peerage by the Labour Party. On 30 May, she was created Baroness Quin, of Gateshead in the County of Tyne and Wear.
In November 2007, she was appointed Chair of the Franco-British Council (British Section). In 2010 she was awarded "Officier de la Legion d'Honneur" by the French Government. She was appointed a shadow Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister by Harriet Harman in May 2010.