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Internal News - 13 December 2006

Helena Kennedy urges degree awards audience to speak out for democracy

Baroness Helena Kennedy received her honorary degree at the winter award ceremonies today, and urged her audience to speak out for democracy and not to be afraid of fresh challenges.

“It’s wonderful for me to receive this degree from Bath University,” she said, after receiving the Doctor of Education degree.

“I have long admired this University, particularly its Department of Education and the innovative, ground-breaking work it has done in internationalism and widening participation.

“It was education which changed my life – I was the first member of my family to have the opportunity.” She said her parents had left school at 14 not because they weren’t intelligent but because the opportunity for higher education had not been there. “We have to make that opportunity available to as many people as possible.”

She spoke about the importance of social justice: “We have to make sure that institutions, like our laws, reflect the lives of all of our citizens”. She said it was important to hold on to our civil liberties against government “of whatever colour, hue or political complexion”. She urged the audience to “speak out against injustice whether near or far”.

She urged the audience of 400 students, their families, and representatives of the city and the University, to try new challenges. “Life is like a pool of water – it can become stagnant if we don’t refresh it,” she said.

She also urged the audience to show appreciation for others in their working and private lives. “Whatever age or position, make a space for love.”

In his oration Professor Jeff Thompson of the Department of Education described Baroness Kennedy’s career, saying that she had worked in the fields of human rights, civil liberties and social justice, chairing the Human Genetics Commission and the inquiry into sudden infant deaths.

As well as in law, Baroness Kennedy had used her skills in the area of education. She served as a commissioner on the National Commission for Education, and she set up the Helena Kennedy Foundation to help disadvantaged students succeed in higher education.

“It is therefore fitting that someone who makes such a strong contribution to the promotion of both national and international education should receive both our respect and gratitude,” he said.

Earlier the Chancellor, Lord Tugendhat, said: “The University has achieved considerable success since receiving its Royal Charter in 1966. Today it has an international reputation for academic excellence of which staff and student both past and present can be proud.”

Lord Joel Joffe CBE, former human rights lawyer who lives at Liddington, south-east of Swindon, was also awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Bath today.

On receiving the degree of Doctor of Law, Lord Joffe said: “I am greatly honoured and proud to be made an honorary graduate from a University which is widely regarded as one of the greatest in the country. I’m particularly delighted because Bath has extended its campus to Swindon.”

Lord Joffe said it was a matter of pride to receive the Doctor of Law degree, because justice was central to law. He spoke of the importance of the Declaration of Human Rights and urged people to consider that “these rights are aspirational rather than common for people in many parts of the developing world”.

He said to the audience of graduates: “For those concerned about justice, use the knowledge and skills you have acquired at the University to contribute to the battle against injustice.”

Lord Joffe said that he applauded graduates who set aside the lure of high salaries to take up careers for social and community good and encouraged everyone to feel they could make a difference and “help to make the world a better place for all who live in it”.

In her oratory to Lord Joffe’s award, Dr Glennys Howarth, Head of the Department of Social & Policy Sciences, said: “Lord Joel Joffe is one of those rare people who has truly devoted his life to the protection of human rights and the promotion of social welfare.

“His life-long commitment to campaigns for social change and policy innovation mark him as one of the most significant public figures in the field of human rights and social welfare.”

Lord Joffe represented Nelson Mandela in the Rivonia trial in 1963 and 1964 when ten leaders of the African National Congress were tried for activities designed to “ferment violent revolution”.

Lord Joffe and his family settled in the UK in 1965. He worked as a policy checker with Abbey Life Assurance in London, before co-founding the financial services company Allied Dunbar.

In keeping with his concern for justice and social welfare he was a Founding Trustee and then Chair of Allied Dunbar Charitable Trust and a member of two leading organisations that encouraged corporate social responsibility.

His concern for human rights and international development is reflected in his work as former chair of Oxfam and with other organisations in the voluntary sector. He has also worked extensively within the voluntary sector in the UK and has campaigned for voluntary euthanasia.

Lord Joffe’s contribution to human rights and social welfare was formally recognised in 1999 when he was awarded the CBE and made a Life Peer in 2000. Lord Joffe’s award was made at one of three degree ceremonies held today, with around 400 students from Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Faculty of Science and Division for Lifelong Learning attending ceremonies at the Assembly Rooms.

In his introduction to the ceremony, the University’s Chancellor, Lord Tugendhat, said: “The University has achieved considerable success since receiving its Royal Charter in 1966. Today it has an international reputation for academic excellence of which staff and student both past and present can be proud.”


Baroness Helena Kennedy
Baroness Helena Kennedy
Baroness Helena Kennedy and the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor
Baroness Helena Kennedy and the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor
Lord Joffe
Lord Joffe
Photos by Nic Delves-Broughton



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