Honor Mishcon (England, AC 07-09)
Helena Kennedy has been on the Board of Governors of Atlantic College since 2005 and, if I might say so, we are very lucky to have her. Apart from being a member of the House of Lords (part of the UK Government that is responsible for passing laws), she is also a criminal lawyer who specialises in human rights.
I was curious. Why is a woman of such high political standing giving her time and efforts to a school? A wonderful school, but nevertheless a school? And so, with the marvellous device that is the Internet, I set out to find what was ‘behind the mask’.
Question: Baroness Kennedy, what makes Atlantic College special enough for you to give your time to it?
Answer: There are many international schools – for the children of diplomats or the personnel of multinational companies. That is not what AC is. The difference comes from the real variety of students, the difference in backgrounds and experiences. I think it provides an exceptional education for a globalised world and provides a deep understanding of our diverse world. Also because of it’s ethos – a commitment to peace, to mutual respect, a belief that every individual can contribute to a better world. And because it brings together students from across racial, religious, gender and class divisions in a spirit of tolerance and respect.
Question: Two of your children have attended UWC. What are the 3 most striking differences between their education and yours?
Answer: I went to a big, Catholic, secondary school in Glasgow. The student population was mainly working class, with a few people whose parents were teachers. It was also very homogenous. There was no one who was not white. Almost everyone had an Irish background – usually immigrant grandparents. Some were from Italian families and some were Polish. A small number originated in the Highlands of Scotland where there is a small Catholic population dating back to the Jacobites.
Clio and Roland’s Sixth form experience could not have been more different. The wonderful thing about UWCs is that the student body is so diverse – in class, race and religion. That mix and the depth of the relationships is what makes it so special. It is also a much more politically and culturally aware environment.
Question: Do you consider that a special UWC diploma is a sensible possibility for the future to replace the IB?
Answer: The diploma would not replace the IB but supplement it – this would show just how much service is done in our colleges unlike in other IB schools.
Question: British students seem to have limited access to full scholarships at AC. Is this fair and are you aware of any steps being taken to change this?
Answer: I do not think it is fair but I can’t begin to tell you how hard it is to get money for scholarships. In some other countries, governments provides some support but the whole issue of education in independent schools is very politicised here and the Government believes the state should support state schools, so that they are improved, and not divert money into private ones. I happen to think there are often great advantages in people from tough backgrounds, but with the right kind of temperament and ability, getting away so that they can develop the skills that will take them to the best universities. Supposing a young person’s mum has become mentally ill or there are real problems at home, going to a UWC could be wonderful. I have spoken to the Minister of Education, Lord Andrew Adonis, about this. He went to a boarding school, although he is not from a privileged background, which was possible in the old days and he is quite open to the possibility of working with us on this together.
Comment: The law and justice system is a very important part of Helena Kennedy’s occupation as a jury advocate and usually dealing with highly charged, political cases that concern human rights. Most of the cases, that she is coming into contact with, relate to the current wave of terrorism. She believes that ‘it is important that people are properly represented if they are going to spend the rest of theirs lives in prison, if convicted’. The majority of cases are incredibly controversial as she is battling on behalf of those who are dealing with a great deal of hostility from the public.
Question: Do you believe that there is adequate access to justice for all?
Answer: Our system is better than many in the world but we have to be constantly vigilant. When governments want to save money it is easy to cut legal aid for those accused of crime because everyone thinks it could never affect them.
Question: Should Legal Aid be more widely available?
Answer: It should be more available in Asylum cases. What is available is meagre and, as a result, the lawyers who do it are often taking shortcuts and failing their clients. People who have suffered persecution need time and care if their story is to come out in all its terrible detail – especially when women have been raped.
Question: Do you consider that the law takes sufficient account of the human rights of those who might be affected by acts of terrorism, when considering the human rights of a suspected terrorist?
Answer: Absolutely. The law on terrorism is so tough. We have surrendered a huge amount of our civil liberties, all in the claim that it will secure better justice for victims. In truth, reducing protections for the accused only increases the risk of miscarriages of justice, which does nothing to protect victims or the general public and gives another victory to the terrorist. As Benjamin Franklin said: “He who sacrifices liberty for security deserves neither.”
Comment: Apart from being a lawyer another important role of the Baroness is being a member of the Labour party within the House of Lords.
Question: You sit on Labour’s benches in the House of Lords. Do you consider it an advantage or disadvantage being a woman in this position?
Answer: Advantage. As we are still only 20% so we get a higher profile for the things we care about.
Question: You have expressed your opposition to the Iraq war. In your opinion, was this the major reason for Tony Blair’s unpopularity and do you think history will look more kindly on his time as Prime Minister?
Answer: History will never forgive him for the decision to go to war with Bush. And nor should it.
Question: Do you believe that Gordon Brown can revive the fortunes of New Labour?
Answer: It is not looking good! He could only do so if he returned to some of his idealism and rediscovered the values of Labour, which is about fairness, equity, and the eradication of poverty.
Question: As a Londoner Do you think that Ken Livingstone made a good mayor?
Answer: Yes I do, because the city is cleaner, more vibrant and business has loved him. He also tried to introduce fairer housing policies and gave free travel to people over 60 and to those under 18. That meant a lot more money in the pocket of ordinary families. I also think he really believed in multiculturalism – as I do. London is wonderful, because it is so diverse. However, all that said, I think he allowed some people under him to misuse money and I think he stayed too long.
Question: What is your immediate reaction to the election of Boris Johnson as mayor?
Answer: Let’s see how he does. I did not like some of his racist comments. No one should talk about black children as ‘pickaninnies’.
Question: Finally, on an issue that all UWC students really take to heart, do you consider that the United Nations, as presently constituted, can possibly achieve peace in the world or is World Peace an impossible objective?
Answer: We have to go on believing in world peace and we have to re-invent the UN to make it happen.
– United World College Student Magazine –