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Helena Kennedy

A founding member of Doughty Street Chambers, Baroness Kennedy is one of the country’s most distinguished lawyers and accomplished legal and social reformers.

Born and brought up in Glasgow, she is a member of the Bar, a King’s Counsel, a Bencher of Gray’s Inn, an Honorary Writer to the Signet and the recipient of 42 Honorary Degrees and Fellowships from many universities including those of St Andrews, Glasgow, London and Edinburgh in recognition of her groundbreaking work on women and the law and on widening participation in higher education. She has also been honoured by the Governments of France and Italy for her considerable work on women’s rights and education. She was created a life peer in 1997 and has been a strong advocate for social justice and the rule of law in the House of Lords. In March 2024, Helena was appointed to The Order of the Thistle, the greatest order of chivalry in Scotland in recognition of the importance of her public service, pioneering work in advancing human rights and social justice, both domestically and internationally.

Over the last 30 years Helena has been at different times Chancellor of

Helena Kennedy

Oxford Brooke’s University, Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, President of the School of Oriental and African Studies and Principal of Mansfield College Oxford University. She was also the Founder of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at Oxford in 2018.

Helena has practiced at the Bar for over 50 years in the field of criminal law and human rights and has conducted many of the leading cases in those years, including the Balcombe Street Siege, the Brighton bombing trial, the Guildford Four Appeal, the bombing of the Israeli embassy, the Michael Bettany Espionage case, the Jihadist fertiliser bomb plot and the transatlantic bomb plot.

Helena Kennedy

Helena has championed law reform for women, especially relating to sexual and domestic violence and developed the defence of PTSD in the UK courts. She is recognised internationally as an authority on violence against women and children, and as one of the seminal forces in reforming the legal profession’s attitude to gender equality and minority access. In her international work, she has worked on sexual violence as a weapon of war and led an Inquiry into Gender Apartheid in 2023.

Her work in the field of international law has included cases on extradition, removal of citizenship, statelessness, deportation, trafficking and torture. As part of the expert team advising the UN Rapporteur on the extrajudicial killing of the journalist, Jamal Kashoggi by a Saudi Arabian SWAT unit in their Consulate in Turkey, she is one of the few people who have been permitted to hear the high security tapes of the killing.

Helena’s public service has covered many fields. She has chaired many public inquiries including:

- in 2004 the Inquiry into Sudden Infant Death for the Royal Colleges of Pathology and of Paediatrics, producing a protocol for the investigation of such deaths;
- in 2012 Equality and Human Rights Commission Inquiry in Scotland addressing Human Trafficking;
- leading the recent Scottish Parliamentary Inquiry into Misogyny.

Helena is President of Justice, the law reform think tank and currently is director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI). She was a Commissioner on the Education Commission from 1992-4 and led a government inquiry in Further Education from 1994 – 1997, producing the seminal report, Learning Works on the importance of second chances in education and on vocational training. She is President of the Helena Kennedy Foundation which gives bursaries to disadvantaged students. As Chair of the British Council 1998 – 2004, she made her mark as an outstanding leader in creating strategic focus and raising morale amongst the staff after years of underfunding. While Chairing the ground-breaking Human Genetics Commission from 1998- 2008, she developed the government-adopted policy on ethical standards of the use of genetic material and criminalising misuse. She was the Chair of Charter 88, which led to widescale constitutional reform including Devolution, when Labour came to government. In 2005-6 she was Chair of the Power Inquiry which reported on the state of British democracy. She was a member of the Government Commission on a British Bill of Rights in 2010 producing a minority report alerting the public to plans to reduce human rights in the UK.

Helena has been a member of the House of Lords for over 25 years, where she has chaired the European Union Justice Committee. She has been a member of the Justice and Home Affairs Committee and is currently serving as a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Helena Kennedy

In 2021, when Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, Baroness Kennedy evacuated 102 women judges and prosecutors who were on death lists by raising the funds, securing safe houses, chartering planes and resettling the women around the world.
With husbands and children, in total 508 people were brought to safety.

She is currently working for the President of Ukraine on war crimes and the recovery of thousands of children who have been abducted from Ukraine by Russian forces.

Helena has authored a number of ground-breaking books on law reform and women’s rights within the law. A frequent broadcaster and journalist on these matters, her widely acclaimed publications include :

- Eve Was Shamed: How British Justice is Failing Women (Chatto & Windus, October 2018) – re-published in paperback under the title, Misjustice: How British Law is Failing Women in September 2019);
- Just Law: The Changing Face of Justice and Why It Matters To Us All (Chatto & Windus, 2004) re-published in paperback under the title, Eve Was Framed: Women and British Justice (Vintage, 1992,1993, March 2005).

Helena was on the board of Hampstead Theatre from 1986 - 1991. She chaired the London Festival of Theatre (LIFT) from 1991 – 1998, and sat on the Board of the British Museum from 2004-2012. She was also President of the Women of the Year Lunch from 2012-2016. In 2024 she was appointed chair of CIISA - the Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority.

Helena co-authored the successful television series Blind Justice with playwright Peter Flannery and became a well-known broadcaster on law and ethics during the eighties, presenting the BBC's Heart of the Matter, After Dark and Hypotheticals.

Helena Kennedy

Helena has received numerous Lifetime and Outstanding Achievement awards to date, including those from the Times, The Legal Aid Lawyers Awards, The Legal 500 and the Next100 Years of Women in Law

Throughout her life and career, Helena has been a trailblazer – forging new horizons for social justice and law reform.

Helena Kennedy