In the news

July 30, 1999

Helena Kennedy's trip to Macedonia this week in advance of the Sarajevo stability pact conference will have been a good challenge for the QC's celebrated sense of fairness.

Ensuring that the British Council, which she has chaired since last year, deals equally with the different Balkan communities will test skills abroad that she has become known for in this country, through, for example, her millennium bursary scheme to help poorer students progress into higher education.

The British Council job also proved tough when the Charity Commissioners queried her right to her Pounds 35,000 salary rather than just "reasonable expenses".

But Baroness Kennedy, 49, has always liked a challenge. Born in Glasgow, the daughter of a newspaper dispatch bundler, she was educated at Holyrood Secondary School and the Council for Legal Education in London. She was called to the Bar in 1972 when she set up her own chambers, aged 22, specialising in defending the underprivileged.

Her CV includes chairing Charter 88, serving on the council of the Howard League for Penal Reform, being chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, hosting television and radio shows, writing seven books and chairing an influential committee on widening participation in further education.

On first name terms with the Blairs, she describes herself as "a critical friend" of the government. She became a working Labour peer in 1997. Her elevation to Lady Kennedy of the Shaws raised eyebrows, since she had previously called for abolition of the Lords. She says she accepted with the promise that it would reform and prides herself on refusing to conform to the stereotype of the out-of-touch peer.

She is known for her parties, held in the large Hampstead home she shares with her husband, cancer specialist Iain Hutchison, and three children.

Pristina University talks, page 44

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