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  • Writer's pictureSangitha Namasoo

A Trailblazer Ahead of Her Time

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC began legal practice at a time when women were openly unwelcome at chambers. Having struggled to find a set of chambers for the sole reason of being a woman, Baroness Kennedy decided to change the game at the tender age of 24. Along with five others who were in a similar predicament as herself due to their minority backgrounds, they set up their own set of chambers, a move unheard of at the time.

Women were unwelcome at chambers due to the perception that they were too passive and would thus be ineffective in court and also because they would take time off to have children. They were thus not seen as good investments by the clerks who ran chambers, whose earnings were contingent on the barristers’ earnings. In order to overcome this barrier of inequity, Baroness Kennedy’s chambers departed from tradition by paying their clerks a salary instead. While this was frowned upon by the bar at the time, this has now become the norm.

In addition to making legal practice a more welcoming space for women barristers, Baroness Kennedy has also advocated for changes in the law so that it may better serve women. She argues that change is necessary because the laws and policies that govern the way we live have been dictated and shaped by men in positions of power and this has not always been in the best interest of women. As a barrister, she has also represented survivors of domestic violence. One such case was her representation of Pamela Sainsbury, a woman who killed her husband after suffering violent abuse at his hands. She successfully argued that her client was suffering from an abnormality of the mind at the time because of the abuse which resulted in Ms Sainsbury being found guilty of manslaughter, and not murder.

Baroness Kennedy was also involved in passing the Human Rights Act in England and in the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into the United Kingdom. As a result of her work in this area, she was invited to become a member of the House of Lords. Having come from a working class family from The Shaws in Glasgow, Scotland, she chose The Shaws as her barony. In being true to her roots, Baroness Kennedy continues to advocate for ordinary people and women’s rights, having revolutionised the profession for women barristers.

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