In an interview with First 100 Years, Helena Kennedy, Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, has spoken of the changes that she has witnessed for women during her career at the Bar. Born to a working-class family in Glasgow, when Helena was called to the Bar in 1972, she describes the stereotypes that she faced:
I went to the Bar and I had the shock of my life because I was with people who were so alien to me… they were almost all young men who’d gone to very expensive public schools, so it was a very different world, it was like stepping into an Evelyn Waugh novel… When I started at the Bar, the stereotype of the successful woman was certainly not one with an accent, she wasn’t one from a working-class background. She was usually an upper middle-class young woman, and the ones who were successful were often ones who had forfeited family life one way or another… and had made their career their absolute commitment.
As a young barrister, Helena quickly focused on the gendered impact of the law. “We were interested in how institutions kept women in their place and often didn’t deliver well for women”, she said, “I was representing women who by and large shouldn’t have been in the courts at all, but were often being judged by men on the basis that they didn’t conform to the appropriate ideas of good womanhood”. Seeing this injustice led Helena to start campaigning and attempting to demystify the law, becoming a regular on Women’s Hour, writing articles and even creating her own drama series called ‘Blind Justice’, based on her experiences.
Since then, Helena has become optimistic about the changes she has witnessed over her career. “I’m afraid I still hear stories from young women at the Bar about bad things and experiences they have and discrimination” she said, “but by and large a lot of it has fallen away, and that’s something the Bar can be proud of… a very different kind of advocacy has developed, so that there’s much more space for all kinds of voices”.
The full video interview with Helena Kennedy will be released by First 100 Years soon.