IBAHRI Director Baroness Helena Kennedy KC appointed to The Order of the Thistle by King Charles III

Monday 18 March 2024

IBAHRI’s Director receives Scotland’s highest royal honour

The Director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), Baroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws, KC, has been appointed Lady of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle by King Charles III of the United Kingdom. The Order of the Thistle is the highest honour in Scotland and is a rare personal gift that can only be bestowed by the monarch. It recognises individuals who have held public office and/or have made a significant contribution to national life. The Order is believed to date back to the eighth century.

Created a life peer as Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, of Cathcart in the City of Glasgow, Scotland on 27 October 1997, Baroness Kennedy King’s Counsel (KC) is a member of the UK House of Lords. On receiving the news of being honoured she said: ‘I am taken aback but really thrilled at receiving this honour’.

Alongside Baroness Kennedy KC, King Charles III has appointed his brother, the Duke of Edinburgh, to the Order of the Thistle and two others: anthropologist Professor Dame Sue Black and Scotland’s first Black professor, Sir Geoff Palmer. A formal installation ceremony of The Order of The Thistle is expected to take place on 3 July 2024.

With a career spanning more than half a century, Baroness Kennedy KC is nationally and internationally recognised as one of Britain’s most distinguished barristers. She has acted in many prominent trials, such as serial murderer Myra Hindley's escape from prison in the 1970s; the Brighton bombing; the Guildford Four appeal; the bombing of the Israeli Embassy; the abduction of baby Abbie Humphries; many key domestic violence cases of abused women killing their husbands; and the murder of Saudi dissident journalist and author, Jamal Khashoggi.

Baroness Kennedy KC is an expert in civil liberties, constitutional issues and human rights law and has been at the forefront of promoting human rights globally. Her professional life has been spent giving a voice to those who have less power within society. She has received 42 honorary degrees from numerous universities for her exceptional record of voluntary work, dedication to advancing women’s rights and efforts to increase the number of people pursuing higher education. A seminal force in promoting equal opportunities for women at the bar, in the 1970s and 1980s she wrote and broadcast extensively on the discrimination experienced by women in the law, as lawyers but also as users of the law – victims and defendants.

Among the numerous high positions Baroness Kennedy KC has held are those of: President of the School of Oriental and African Studies, now SOAS University of London – she was the first woman appointed in this role; Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University; Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford; Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University; Vice-President of the Association of Women Barristers; a patron of Liberty; Chair of the British Council; a trustee of the British Museum; President of the National Children's Bureau; Chair of the Booker Prize Foundation; Commissioner of the National Commission for Education; President of Council of Justice – the British arm of the International Commission of Jurists; and the UK member of the IBA Task Force on International Terrorism.

In 2021, Baroness Kennedy KC expanded her impressive list of achievements by leading the evacuation and resettlement of more than 500 women judges, lawyers and their families from Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of the country.

Words of congratulations have been manifold including from:

Almudena Arpón de Mendívil Aldama President of the International Bar Association (IBA): ‘On behalf of the entire Association, I extend our warmest congratulations to Baroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws KC for this new recognition to her outstanding career devoted to human and social justice and upholding the rule of law all over the world. Baroness Kennedy’s natural intelligence, impressive energy, generosity, and warmth, outshines us all. The IBA, and me personally, are so proud of having Baroness Kennedy as one of our most outstanding contributors, being sure that with this achievement Helena will increase even more the impact of her impressive deeds’.

Dr Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the IBA: ‘I have known Helena, Baroness Kennedy, for more than 25 years and I am delighted that she has been honoured with The Order of the Thistle by King Charles. The dedication and passion Helena has brought to the fight for more just societies across the globe is an example to all and greatly admired by many, including me. Her advocacy for women’s and girl’s rights, particularly, has inspired an untold number of people and has undoubtedly brought about much positive change to supressed lives. Purposeful, determined and unwavering in her commitment to uplifting and creating opportunities for women to play greater roles in society she deserves every accolade bestowed. Congratulations on this royal honour dear friend.’

Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, IBAHRI Co-Chair: ‘Helena Kennedy has been appointed to the Order of the Thistle, Scotland´s highest royal honour, by King Charles. It is very well deserved and a recognition of her outstanding career devoted to human and social justice and upholding the rule of law all over the world. Baroness Kennedy is also an outstanding leader. She serves as a role model for women all around the world. But, she is even more importantly combining her extensive knowledge and leadership with genuine empathy. And she has courage to stand up for what she believes is right. She has high integrity. It has been a great privilege to work with her for many years. She was the co-chair of IBAHRI and is now the Director of the IBAHRI. As present co-chair I can only congratulate Helena and the IBAHRI.’

Mark Stephens CBE, IBAHRI Co-Chair: ‘It is a rare honour to be awarded the Order of the Thistle, reserved for those who have given outstanding national service. Helena's demonstrated exceptional leadership, integrity, and courage as well as tireless dedication and unwavering commitment to the nation has deservedly earned this high distinction. The sheer range of Helena's contributions to justice and public life leaves one awestruck. From chairing, the British Council, the Human Genetics Commission, heading many public enquiries, her ground breaking work for equality not to mention the evacuating (from Afghanistan) of 508 persecuted women judges, lawyers and their families. People who would not be alive today, but for Helena's intervention. She sets a shining example for others to follow, in her unwavering commitment to fairness and justice has made a lasting impact on our society.’

In 2023, Baroness Kennedy carried the Queen Consort's Rod with Dove when she participated in King Charles’ and Queen Camilla's coronation at Westminster Abbey.


Notes to the Editor

  1. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

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