2022 Good Governance Award | Baroness Helena Kennedy

23 September 2022

Each year the Institute recognises the achievements that one person has made towards advancing good governance through the Good Governance Award.

This year we are delighted to announce Baroness Helena Kennedy as the 2022 Good Governance Award winner in recognition dedicating her professional life giving voice to those who have least power within the system, championing civil liberties and promoting human rights.

Baronnes Kennedy graciously accepted the award on 22 September 2022, during GGI's annual lecture, and said:

"I'm really honoured to receive this, it really does matter to me.

"And I just want to thank all of you because you're doing a very important thing in having this institute, which is trying to establish high standards in public life and to remind people of why those standards matter. So to receive this from all of you is an honour indeed, and I and I take it to my heart, and I want to thank you.

"You asked if I would say a few words at this point, and I just want to say that I was brought up in a in a working class family in Glasgow and it was quite a surprising thing that I ended up in the House of Lords and having the career that I've had. It has come about really because, of course, I was encouraged by people at different points, and I always recognise the fact that I was lucky, of course, as well.

"But I think the driving thing for me has been about wanting to create fairness in the systems. I always remember that, as a child, my mother had - it was injured, we lived in a working class area with a lot of dilapidated buildings and tenement buildings, and my mother was injured by a falling slate. She was really almost blinded. It came down and split her head open and cut through her eye.

"She was actually quite - she didn't know how to go about making some sort of claim. Most ordinary people are intimidated by law, although my mother was quite a feisty woman, I have to tell you.

"So I really did feel that there was something that one could do with a practice in the law, if you actually had that strong sense and understanding that you had to know what happens beyond the courtroom doors, the lives of people; you have to make it your business, to immerse yourself in the ways in which people experience unfairness injustice

"You only have to go into a school, as I did with my children, and when I was asked to go in and talk about what it was like to be a barrister, I brought along my wig and gown, and children in a class and always know when you ask them, if they know what it means when something's unfair. They know. And they will tell you when you're blamed for something that you didn't do, or that you didn't mean to do in a hurtful way, or that you're not being picked for a reason that is not because you're not able to do something. They know about unfairness.

"And discrimination is something that children, at a certain point, they realise and they get a sense of it. People will tell you, who are experienced discriminations and being cast aside or looked over and their abilities not being recognised, they know it.

"Someone once in the side-line, I saw that somebody said in some ways it's easier to work out what it means when something is unfair, rather than what fairness really means.

"But I think that there's a human yearning for justice and fairness, and you know it when you when you experience unfairness.

"I always remember being asked about equality and the dismissal thing; Miss Kennedy, you want equality for your client, well, I'm just going to send her to jail in the same way that I would send a male defendant to jail. And, of course, treating people the same is not a way of securing justice. If you have before you someone who is the mother of small children who has been shoplifting or who's fiddled her social security because she's finding it so hard to make ends meet, her situation is very different from that of a young single man. So you really have to reach beyond the cosmetic, the sort of surface, to do real justice in cases.

"So it does involve us having to treat people not equally, but as equals. I was brought up by a mother who always used to say to us, you must never look down on anybody. You must never feel you're better than anybody else. But you should also know that nobody's better than you. We were always brought up to feel that. So I haven't ever felt, I have to honestly say, too intimidated by authority, and I would urge that on everyone.

"I do think that in a democracy, the rule of law, decency, good governance, honesty in public service, all those things are so important. It's why the Nolan Principles really matter. And you have to remember why they were brought into being in the first place, because there was so much of a failure to live by standards that we somehow had been taking for granted, this business of people behaving honourably. Well, I'm afraid, it doesn't come as easily as that, and when people have a bit of power, you've got to remember that power is delightful, and absolute power is absolutely delightful, and people are likely to abuse it if we don't maintain high standards, and if there isn't accountability when people don't stand up - don't perform in the way that should be expected in public life.

"So I just want to say to everyone, I'm really honoured to receive this. I do think that justice is one of the supreme values that should exist in any society, and I'm alarmed by what I see happening around the world just now, and I'm alarmed when I see the huge gap between those who are doing just fine and are wealthy, and the way in which we're diminishing a resource for so many people in our society.

"So I do think these are difficult times, but good people have to come together and make the case for why equity, fairness, justice, have to be the underlying principles which guide our society. Thank you."

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