WHEN HELENA KENNEDY was eight-years-old, she recalls her mother bringing a young woman from their close into the family’s southside Glasgow tenement. “I have such a strong memory of this,” says the distinguished human rights lawyer, champion of civil liberties and peer of the realm. “The girl was married to a neighbour’s son and she had a baby. She also had a black eye.

“I was sitting in the corner reading a book – that’s the kind of child I was! – but I saw everything. I watched my mother going into the drawer, where she hid cash for an emergency, although we were certainly not well off. I remember seeing her giving money to this girl, saying, ‘Go back to your parents, darling.’

“When I think about my mother, she was not frightened of anybody. She had a great heart. Such a good woman.”

Like mother, like daughter, I think, as Kennedy – who, 60 years on, is Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws – talks about the late Mae Kennedy. “Another thing my mother often said was, ‘Remember you are not better than other people, but nobody’s better than you.’ It has always stayed with me. I’m not impressed with status or riches.

“My mother wasn’t in awe of that either. When I went into the House of Lords, in 1997, she went round with me. She said, ‘You know, I thought most of these people were dead... I suppose a lot of them are.’ So funny! My parents were good, clever people, devout Catholics and, of course, Labour.”

Kennedy’s father, Joss, worked in dispatch at the Daily Record and was an active trade unionist. She was her dad’s blue-eyed girl, the third of four daughters, the “replacement” for a baby son who died after Joss returned from the war. “I was particularly close to him because I was the first baby he had any involvement with. I went to the library with him every week on his hand. It’s a regret he never saw me in the House of Lords. He died at the age of 62 by which time I was a barrister. He was very tickled with that.

“When I look back, my parents have informed my way of seeing law. Certainly, I’m a child of the Glasgow tenements with strong class politics and I have never forgotten that. Remembering my mother with that girl fires many memories of blighted women’s lives.”

We meet over coffee in an Edinburgh hotel. Sixty-eight-year-old Kennedy – glamorous in sparkly cream tweed, with a waterfall of lace frills at her bosom –has just flown from London, where she lives in Hampstead with her husband, the surgeon Iain Hutchison. That morning she had chaired a select committee meeting in the House of Lords on Brexit and justice issues – Britain's exit from the EU will make women more vulnerable, she believes. Later, she will join a meeting of other members of the First Minister’s Advisory Council on Women and Girls, the panel was created last November to advise the Scottish Government on tackling gender inequality.

Few people are better qualified to shine a piercing light on this subject than Kennedy, a tireless champion of justice for women, who has also chaired the British Council and the Human Genetics Commission; led inquiries into sudden infant death and safety at Aldermaston atomic weapons establishment, as well as chairing the Booker Prize Foundation. She’s even on the board of her close friend Ruby Wax’s Frazzled Cafe mental health project. (Little known fact: Wax taught Kennedy to rollerblade!) Recently, Kennedy stepped down after six years as principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, and is now the first woman chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University.

A heroine to at least two generations of women – Today presenter Mishal Husain recently named Kennedy as her inspiration – Kennedy has also been a TV presenter (After Dark, Heart of the Matter) and co-writer of Blind Justice, the 1980s TV series. She’s written a shelfful of books and is about to publish her latest, the eloquently argued, stirringly passionate Eve Was Shamed: How British Justice is Failing Women. It is a book she never thought she would have to write after her seminal 1992 book, Eve Was Framed: Women and British Justice, a remarkable work that paved the way for a number of changes in the legal system. Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon says it was one of the first books she read when training as a young lawyer.

“Without being immodest,” says Kennedy – who has much to be immodest about – “I regarded that book as a victory. I do try not to be boastful but it is on the reading list not just for law but social work and women’s studies. I like to think that some of my arguments for law reform laid the groundwork for various changes. But I was a young woman writing about discrimination against women at the bar and some people [in the legal profession] got angry with me.”

But they were never going to shut her up, were they?

“You can take the girl out of Glasgow but you can never take Glasgow out of the girl!” she exclaims. After all, as she writes in Eve Was Shamed, as a trainee lawyer, in London in 1968, she “stepped from the equivalent of a comprehensive school in a mean city – Holyrood Secondary – into the pages of an Evelyn Waugh novel. And was I miserable! Like childbirth, nothing had really prepared me for it.” She tells me: “There were young men with signet rings, with the family crest, on their pinkies. They rode to hounds and went to the country at weekends. There was talk of ‘cockers-p’s’ -- cocktail parties, it emerged! It was so foreign to me. The bar was such an elitist profession and to be a working-class girl at that time... Thank God, there has been change but the smell of the gentleman’s club, as I write in Eve Was Shamed, still permeates every crevice of the Inns of Court.”

Nevertheless, she was seduced by “the drama of the bar” and abandoned plans to read English at Glasgow University. She was treated “like a piece of flotsam that had mistakenly drifted in” by the clerks in her pupillage chambers. Often she would be mistaken for the defendant’s sister – that rich, Glaswegian accent.

One pupil-master warned her she would hate it in his chambers. She did. “But I just had to succeed.” She did. Today she has more letters after her name than there are in the alphabet.

“When I tell the fabulous, talented, very canny young women in my chambers what it was like in my day, their jaws drop,” she says. “But women are still facing serious discrimination in the law. Men still say to your face, ‘We don’t want women here. We don’t take women.’ Incredible!

“My daughter-in-law is training to be a solicitor in a law firm. Being paid a pittance, she asked for a rise. They said to her, ‘But you have got a husband!' Can you imagine that that is still being said to people, that she is regarded as the second wage in a household. Unbelievable.”

A woman possessed of a personality so warm you could toast wintry hands on it, Kennedy, has three children, Kier (35, her son by the actor Iain Mitchell, with whom she had an eight-year relationship), Roland (29) and Clio (31), with Hutchison. She first began writing early in the 70s about how British justice fails women. “I was perceived as this terrible virago who ate small boys for breakfast. These people do not like being called out. Describing how it was made some very angry indeed. So Eve Was Framed was highly contentious, dismissed as nonsense 25 years ago. How ridiculous that I was saying these things! Eventually, it was acknowledged. We got some change. Many things have improved. Undoubtedly. At the very least we have many more women in the law and on the Bench, although the number of women judges is still very low. It’s not great in Scotland either, although when I started there were no women judges. So it has to be better than it was.”

Yet here she is again, deeply frustrated that a new book on gender inequality and the law appears to be so urgently needed for now Eve is not only shamed, she is invariably blamed. “Too many new challenges have arisen,” Kennedy insists. She decided to look again at the British justice system as it is experienced by women – whether as defendants, victims or practitioners.

Cataloguing the persistence of misogyny and stereotypes, from whores to wicked women, from the good wife and mother to the “other” woman, she lays bare all the inequality that still exists. She also suggests solutions for change wherever she seems them without undermining the principles which must underpin justice.

“There has to be a demolition job on the structural engineering of society,” she writes. Well, here comes the wrecking ball in the shape of this powerful book.

Her aim is to move the current debate on following the flood of #MeToo revelations, which Kennedy believes has captured a mood that has been gathering force for several years. The tipping point came, she reckons, in 2012 when the deceased celebrity entertainer Jimmy Savile was exposed as a paedophile and gross abuser of women and children.

“It was as though people had been waiting for permission to talk about their experiences and a flood of historic abuse and discrimination was laid bare. Now, though, it is not just about celebrities and the casting couch, it is about the way women have to live their lives and the debasing wretchedness of continuing gender inequality. The new element is the internet, which has stirred a rage that has reverberated around the world and led to a huge wave of online discussion.” She also sees the #Me Too movement as a response to the law’s failure.

“I love the energy of young women, the gusto they are bringing to shouting about what has happened to them. Our generation didn’t. We kept quiet about the hand on the knee, the chasing around the office table, the bottom pinching – and worse. If we complained, we were told to get back in our box. Remember how you felt cheapened by it? Now, women are angrier than they have ever been, although there is no question of us taking an automatic rifle to men. It is about us saying, ‘Look, this is still going on’ and it is about ideas of toxic masculinity.

“What I don’t want them to get wrong is trying to throw away all the rules. We have to have high standards of proof. If we lower them, so that we can convict these guys more easily we end up wounding ourselves. We need a better social bargain that makes for equality and that’s a huge challenge. And we must remember there are many good, decent men – my father was one – a man who never used the f-word in my hearing in his life. Also, I am married to a very fine man.”

A DECADE ago, Kennedy did one of those Q&A Secret Life columns for a newspaper. Who was her secret crush? She replied: “George Clooney.” Is he still her secret crush, given that his wife, Amal, is “one of many amazing women” in Kennedy’s Doughty Street chambers?

“Ha! Ha!” Kennedy laughs. “I now know George too well. He is my friend’s husband, a lovely man. But my husband is very handsome and dashing too, the love of my life. As for Amal, she’s a terrific barrister, a lovely mother, a fabulous dresser. Aways was, long before she got involved with George. She has a great eye. Yes, we do share a passion for causes – and for clothes.”

Currently one of their shared causes involves taking statements from Yazidi women in refugee camps about how they have been treated by Isil. “We are trying to help with identifying men who committed multiple rapes. There is a lot of international cooperation involved in finding the perpetrators and they will come before international criminal courts. We shall mount prosecutions. People in the Trump administration may be saying that the international criminal court has to end, but if you want to put an end to this kind of genocide, this orchestrated abuse and slavery of women you need these courts.”

Certainly, those courts need their latter day Portias, such as Amal Clooney and Baroness Kennedy. “I do love the law,” she says. “The thing about being an advocate doing serious cases is you are dealing with people at the most difficult time of their lives. It is an incredible privilege to be involved with people in that way. My work has been a source of great fulfilment to me, although inevitably there are cases where we hear of people telling of terrible things that happened to them and they were disbelieved.

“Of course men suffer too. Oh God, the shame I feel about what has happened in the Catholic church – it is shocking. I feel very angry, I really do. The fact that it happened and the covering up of it over years. Shame creates a miasma of silence and that poisons any attempt to gain justice. Voices have to be heard but they are not going to be in a society that is as broken as the one we have got.”

Bring on the Baroness’s demolition squad.

Eve Was Shamed: How British Justice is Failing Women, by Helen Kennedy (Chatto & Windus, £20).