Helena Kennedy QC
Helena Kennedy is a leading barrister and an expert in human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues. She is a member of the House of Lords and chair of Justice – the British arm of the International Commission of Jurists (Link to the Justice website). She is a bencher of Gray's Inn and President of the School of Oriental and African studies, University of London. She was the chair of Charter 88 from 1992 to 1997, the Human Genetics Commission from 1998 to 2007 and the British Council from 1998 to 2004. She also chaired the Power Inquiry, which reported on the state of British democracy and produced the Power Report in 2006. She has received honours for her work on human rights from the governments of France and Italy and has been awarded more than thirty honorary doctorates. She is currently acting in cases connected to the recent wave of terrorism – including the conspiracy to bomb Transatlantic Airlines and Operation Crevice.
In Helena's practice of law as a barrister – she is a member of the Doughty Street Chambers in London – she has acted in many of the most prominent cases of the last 30 years including the Brighton Bombing, the Michael Bettany espionage trial, the Guildford Four appeal and the bombing of the Israeli embassy. She has also acted in many homicide trials with a domestic setting. She was the British member of the recent International Bar Association Task Force on Terrorism. She recently chaired an inquiry for the Royal College of Pathologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health into sudden infant death, in the aftermath of miscarriages of justice where mothers were wrongly convicted of murdering their babies. As a life peer she also participates in the House of Lords on issues concerned with human rights, civil liberties, social justice and culture. She has led the opposition to encroachments on the right to jury trial and for her courageous stand against the government was awarded the Spectator's Parliamentary Campaigner of the Year Award in 2000.
Many different fields.
Helena was a seminal force in promoting equal opportunities for women at the Bar. Ahead of her time, she was a singular voice in the seventies and eighties, writing and broadcasting on the discrimination experienced by women in the law, as lawyers but also as users of the law - victims and defendants. She became a member of the Bar Council to champion women in the profession and called for research into the experience of women lawyers and particularly their absence on the Bench.This led to changes in policy in the Lord Chancellor's Department and codes of practice at the Bar. For her work for women she received the Times Newspaper's Lifetime Achievement award in 1999.
Helena was a founding member of Charter 88, the constitutional reform group which was set up in 1988 in response to growing concerns about the failure of British institutions to serve our democracy. Support for the organisation swelled and she chaired the organisation with considerable energy from 1992 - 1997, calling for a written constitution, devolution, electoral reform, a bill of rights, a freedom of information act, reform of parliament and of the judiciary. With a handful of others she played a key role in persuading the New Labour Party to embrace this reform agenda as a central plank of is manifesto, which led to the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into British Law and a whole range of constitutional reforms including reform of the House of Lords.
Helena was a commissioner on the National Commission for Education 1991—1993 and then chaired the Further Education Commission into Widening Participation which produced the seminal report Learning Works 1997. As a result the sector created a trust in her name - the Helena Kennedy Foundation - which provides bursaries to help the most disadvantaged in society move into Higher Education. She works assiduously with her friend Ann Limb to raise money to pay for the grants.
Her unique skills as an advocate and social reformer have taken her into many different fields of activity but she has always devoted special commitment to the arts. She is chair of Arts and Business and from 1994 to 2002, she was chair of the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT). Prior to that she was on the board of the Hampstead Theatre. She was also, from 1998 - 2004, chair of the British Council, the most successful cultural organisation in the world, which she led through a period of dynamic change. As a result of her success in this role she was invited by the President of the World Bank to be on the advisory council to the World Bank Institute from 1998 - 2005. Because of her ability to deliver concrete change in whatever work she undertakes, she has received many public acknowledgements for her contributions. She is an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatry and also a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists. She is also a Fellow of the City and Guilds.
She is currently on the board of the Independent newspaper, which she has done since 1998 and is a member of the Media Standards Trust.
She has been a trustee of the British Museumsince 2005. And she is also a trustee of the Booker Trust, which administers the famous literary prize.
Helena's interest in literature has led to her judging a number of book prizes - The Samuel Johnson Prize in 1998 and again as chair in 2007; the Orange Prize in 2004; the Arvon Prize for Poetry in 2003; the Guardian first Book Prize in 2005. She is also very interested in contemporary art and has been a judge on the BP Portrait Awards in 2005 and chaired the Discerning Eye Awards in 2007.
She is a patron of many charities, including Poets in the City, Safe Hands( a charity which supports maternal and infant health in Ethiopia), MAP (Medical Aid for Palestinians of which she is President) the Civil Liberties Trust and the Patients Association.