On Tuesday May 23 2023, the John Smith Centre proudly hosted Baroness Helena Kennedy KC as part of our Power Hour series looking at key women in public life.
Baroness Kennedy is one of Britain’s most distinguished lawyers. She has spent her professional life giving voice to those who have least power within the system, championing civil liberties and promoting human rights. She has conducted many prominent cases of terrorism, official secrets and homicide.
She is the founding force behind the establishment of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at the University of Oxford. In 1997, she was elevated to the House of Lords where she is a Labour peer. She has published a number of booked including two on how the justice system is failing women. Currently, she has taken on the role of Director to the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. She directs the Institute’s work upholding the rule of law and human rights globally.
Baroness Kennedy joined Centre Director, Kezia Dugdale in conversation about why she chose to enter law, the ways in which the justice system fail women and how she has sought to tackle this.
The full 60-minute session is available to watch or listen to again here but here are some highlights from our Centre Director, Kezia Dugdale.
1) What made you become a lawyer?
In this clip, Baroness Kennedy explains how both her parents played a part in her decision to study law. She says her mother wanted her to become a teacher but she knew she wanted to move to London to become a lawyer.
2) Being a female lawyer
Baroness Kennedy says she quickly saw how the law failed women. She has written two books about this. The first, “Eve Was Framed” gave an eye-opening analysis of the disadvantages that women face when standing trial in a criminal court. In this clip, Baroness Kennedy explains what it was like to be a female lawyer in London in the 1970s and 1980s.
3) Misogyny & “double deviance”
In her second book, “Misjustice: How British Law is Failing Women”, Baroness Kennedy argues that accused women face a “double deviance. They are judged on whether they have committed a crime but also on if they are seen as a “meek and quiet” woman. She also talks about how she was asked to look into whether misogyny could be made a criminal offence in Scotland.
4) How would misogyny be prosecuted as a crime?
After Baroness Kennedy unveiled her proposals to make misogyny a crime in Scotland, some asked how this would be prosecuted. In this clip, Kezia asks Baroness Kennedy to explain when that would be a criminal act.
*Warning: racial language content in this clip*
5) Tackling online hate
Baroness Kennedy says she thinks that misogyny is getting worse with social media adding to the growing trend. In this clip, she says that social media companies must be held responsible and accountable.
6) Juryless trials in Scotland
The Scottish Government has said it will pilot juryless trials for rape cases with a judge deciding whether or not to convict a suspect. In this clip, Baroness Kennedy gives her response to this proposal.
Everyone at the John Smith Centre would like to thank Baroness Kennedy for giving us an hour of her time with such a fascinating discussion about her career, misogyny and how women are let down by the criminal justice system.