|Police and Crime Commissioner
15 November 2012
|Preceded by||Office Created|
|Solicitor General for England and Wales|
29 June 2007 – 11 May 2010
|Prime Minister||Gordon Brown|
|Preceded by||Mike O'Brien|
|Succeeded by||Edward Garnier|
|Member of Parliament
7 June 2001 – 12 April 2010
|Preceded by||Mo Mowlam|
|Succeeded by||Ian Swales|
13 February 1950 |
Chadderton, Lancashire, England
|Spouse(s)||David Taylor-Gooby 1972–78 (divorced)
Robert Brian Baird 1978–79 (deceased)
|Alma mater||Newcastle Polytechnic, Open University, London Guildhall University, University of Teesside|
Vera Baird, QC (born Vera Thomas on 13 February 1950) is a British Labour Party activist, barrister, author and lecturer. She serves as a visiting professor at London South Bank University and a visiting law lecturer at Teesside University. She is also an honorary fellow of St Hilda's College, Oxford, a co-director of Astraea Gender Justice (research and education) and the chair of Eaves for Women Charity. She is the only woman honorary member of the Durham Miners Association. She was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Redcar from 2001 to 2010, when she lost her seat to the Liberal Democrats with the highest swing against any Labour candidate anywhere in the country prompted by local anger over the closure of Teesside Steelworks.
Baird became the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria in November 2012. During the campaign she featured her intention to champion neighbourhood policing, improve how anti-social behaviour and drug crime are dealt with and prioritise tackling violence against women.
Vera Baird was born in Chadderton, near Oldham in Lancashire, the daughter of Jack Thomas, a maintenance painter in a cotton mill, who died when she was 10-years-old, and Alice Marsland, a print worker. Her paternal grandfather was a Welsh miner and her maternal grandparents were cotton mill workers. She went to Yew Tree County Primary School and the local authority-run Chadderton Grammar School for Girls and was then at Newcastle Polytechnic where she studied Law, gaining an LLB. Whilst there she founded and edited a Student Newspaper, "Polygon" and a year later was elected Vice President of the Polytechnic Union. In 1983 she gained a BA in Literature and Modern History at the Open University. In 1983 she became a legal associate of the Royal Town Planning Institute. She completed the first year of an MA in modern history at London Guildhall University from 1999 before transferring to University of Teesside on being selected for Redcar. She is currently studying for an MPhil (History) at the University of Teesside.
She was the part-time Parish Council clerk of Shadforth parish council in County Durham in the late 1970s when she lived in the County Durham village of Ludworth. Baird joined the Labour Party in 1971 and later joined the TGWU, now UNITE. She is now also a member of UNISON and of the GMB Trade Unions and a member of the Co-operative Party.
She was called to the Bar at Gray's Inn in 1975 and first practised in the North East, setting up Collingwood Chambers in Newcastle upon Tyne, with other young barristers, shortly after she finished her pupilage and becoming its Head of Chambers for some years.
In 1983 she was retained to act for Billingham Against Nuclear Dumping (BAND) when the then nuclear waste disposal agency NIREX planned to store medium-level nuclear waste in a disused anhydrite mine under Billingham, though the plans were abandoned in 1985 when ICI the owners of the mine refused to co-operate. At the conclusion of the campaign her barrister fees were, at her instruction, donated by BAND to the Druridge Bay Campaign. She subsequently represented similar groups opposed to nuclear waste dumping threatened at Fulbeck in Lincolnshire (Lincolnshire Against Nuclear Dumping- LAND) at East Killingholme on Humberside (HAND) and at Bradwell (BAND) in a lengthy High Court action in 1986, before those plans were abandoned by the Tory government, shortly before the 1987 General Election.
She represented a dismissed mother-to-be in an early pregnancy discrimination case (Brown v Stockton on Tees Borough Council) in the House of Lords. In the late '80s she represented a mother who was alleged to have killed her 3 sons, an early example of a parent allegedly suffering from Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy. She acted for innumerable political protesters, at Greenham Common and other peace camps, on anti-apartheid marches and demonstrations and defended women who damaged shops in protest against "top shelf" magazines. She represented local objectors in compulsory purchase and planning inquiries.
During the 1984-85 miners' strike she represented miners, in hundreds of cases in Northumberland and County Durham, charged with offences arising from picketing, demonstrations and protesting against miners who broke the strike. On Saturdays during the strike Baird was regularly seen outside a supermarket in Jesmond with a wheelbarrow collecting food for miners' families.
She met Anthony Gifford, 6th Baron Gifford while working on the Battle of Orgreave trial where her forensic questioning of the police proved crucial to the outcome. The Battle of Orgreave trial concerned allegations of riot against more than one hundred miners, 15 of whom were in the first trial which was abandoned by the prosecution after 16 weeks. She joined Gifford’s chambers before moving to the Chambers of Michael Mansfield QC in 1988 alongside Patrick Roche, the husband of her former parliamentary colleague, Barbara Roche.
Thereafter, Baird was involved in many high-profile cases at the bar, regularly defending in murders, robberies, drug cases, fraud and bribery cases at the Old Bailey and on appeal to the Court of Appeal and House of Lords. She also prosecuted in environmental cases for Greenpeace.
In many of these cases she acted as a Leading Junior, leading other members of the junior Bar in cases against QCs. In 1994 she represented the Defendant in, R v Carol Peters (the appeal and re-trial) in which the Court of Appeal quashed Peters' murder conviction (alleged temazepan poisoning and the inflicting of 39 stab wounds to her husband) ordering a re-trial at which she was acquitted of murder, the jury accepting Baird's submissions that she was suffering from,what was at the time an evolving area of law, battered women syndrome. Baird was instructed by high-profile lawyer Mark Stephens in the case. She also represented Emma Humphreys on appeal, a disadvantaged young woman, who had been convicted of murdering her violent pimp when she was 17 years old. The case changed the law to the advantage of battered women who kill their violent partners and underpinned legislative changes subsequently made to that law by the Labour Government when Baird was a Minister. Baird acted for many other abused women following the Humphreys cases and the legal changes that it brought about. Other high-profile cases Baird has been involved in include representing murderer Jane Andrews in an appeal. She defended prisoners accused of rioting at Risley Remand Centre and then at Strangeways Prison and continued to represent campaigners in many kinds of protest case. She took silk in 2000, 25 years after becoming a barrister, and has said that the Queen's Counsel system was in need of reform to make it more transparent. Immediately following her promotion to QC, she applied to become the Labour candidate for the Redcar constituency and returned full-time to the North East.
At the 1983 general election, Baird contested the constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed, finishing in third place behind the victor Alan Beith. At the 2001 general election she was selected to contest Labour's ultra-safe seat of Redcar, following the retirement of the sitting MP and former Cabinet minister, Mo Mowlam. Baird won with 7% smaller vote than Mowlam taking the seat with a large majority.
In 2004 Baird served on a number of select committees between 2001 and 2005 including Joint Select Committee on Human Rights 2001–2003 and the Select Committee on Work and Pensions between 2003 and 2005.
On 8 May 2006, she was appointed as a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Constitutional Affairs – which was renamed the Ministry of Justice in May 2007, following the reorganisation of the Home Office. In June 2007, newly appointed Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed Baird Solicitor General for England and Wales.
In 2006 Baird commented that in calculating the sentence of a sex offender the judge had been too lenient; she retracted the comments after her boss Lord Falconer supported the judge saying the fault lay not with the judiciary but with sentencing guidelines. Judge Keith Cutler later suggested that criticism from ministers including Baird and Home Secretary John Reid could force judges to break their tradition of silence when criticised.
In 2009 Baird helped establish the Stern Review on the way rape cases are handled, an independent report by Baroness Stern, it was published in March 2010 concluding there needed to be a greater focus on victims.
In the recession beginning in mid-2008 the worldwide price of steel halved over a period of 6 months, steel production world-wide reduced and in the UK the blast furnace at Teesside Steelworks Corus was eventually shut down on 19 February 2010. The whole plant was then mothballed following the withdrawal of an international consortium that had been considering the purchase of the plant. There were over a thousand redundancies and the future of Redcar, as a steel town was undermined. A major regional campaign to save the steelworks was operating but, despite receiving praise for her own personal efforts in the campaign which had included a trip to Italy in an attempt to persuade Marcegaglia, the leading consortium business to keep to the contract, the view was that the Labour Government had failed to save the steelworks. Baird lost her seat in the House of Commons on 7 May 2010 at the 2010 General Election, with a 21.8% swing, the largest against Labour in the General Election and the first time in the short history of the constituency the Labour Party had ever lost the seat in Redcar.
Baird was a frequent backbench speaker, winning adjournment debates on diverse national and local issues and in 2004 she was awarded The Spectator Backbencher of the Year Award. During her time as an MP Baird was a member of both the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. She delivered lectures at conferences on democracy, gender and human rights in many locations around the world and carried out election monitoring duties on nine occasions.
She was a notable figure in several Parliamentary campaigns including that to remove the rule where pensioners going into hospital had to surrender their pension and reapply on discharge and in another campaign that sought, successfully, to amend National Insurance and other rules – the amendments meaning that the number of women who qualified for the Basic State Pension was greatly increased.
Higher profile campaigns included her involvement in a Commons revolt against derogation from Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights in which Baird often took the lead in Parliament and the blocking of the partial abolition of jury trial proposed in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 through the proposal of amendments in the Commons. Bob Marshall-Andrews, another MP opposed to the abolition of jury trials, gave credit to Baird's efforts by stating "Saving jury trial was a singular victory and the one of which, in thirteen years at Westminster, I remain most proud. Without Vera’s voice we would probably have lost and that remains, as they say, big medicine."
During her time as a backbencher Baird was involved in various activities and work outside of Parliament. She designed and delivered courses, in consecutive years, for the British Council on aspects of criminal, civil and family law firstly for Ethiopian judiciary and secondly to the Ethiopian Police Service. She was a Fellow of the Norfolk Trust in Summer 2004, visiting New Zealand, South America and East Africa to study her own topic of violence against women and, as is the obligation to the Trust, to study the chosen topics of her 3 Co-Fellows, which were HIV/AIDs, environmental issues in connection with mineral extraction and Health Service delivery. She was a Patron of the Jubilee Debt Campaign of EVA-Women’s Aid of FOCAS (autistic charity) and ROC (disabled charity). She was Chair of the Fawcett Commission on Women and Criminal Justice 2002 – 2006. This latter was a seminal review of women as defendant, as victims & witnesses and as workers in the criminal justice system which triggered a number of major legislative and non-legislative changes including the Corston Review on Women with Vulnerabilities in Prison. Baroness Corston succeeded Baird as Commission Chair when Baird became a Minister. Baird worked with MIND on strategies to make the criminal courts more responsive to people with mental illness or learning difficulties and was Secretary of the Parliamentary Labour Party Women’s Committee.
During her time as MP and before she became a PPS, Baird was active in the Parliamentary Committee system. She was a member of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee 2003–2005 : scrutinising the work of the DWP. Influential Reports included on Women and Pensions and Child Support Agency, the latter bringing the demise this failed organisation; a member of the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights 2001–2003 : joint Lords-Commons Committee scrutinising legislation for compliance with European Convention on Human Rights. Influential reports include recommending the establishment of the Equality and Human Rights Commission; a member of the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny Committee on various constitution and democracy proposals including the Corruption Bill 2003 (With others on the committee, Baird was instrumental in ensuring the rejection of the Corruption Bill, which would not have complied with international obligations); a member of the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny Committee of the Armed Forces Bill 2005–2006: The Committee approved the Bill with modifications, in particular about reform to the Court Martial system; elected onto a large number of House of Commons Standing Committees (now (2012) known as General Committees, they conduct detailed scrutiny of proposed legislation) including: Export Control Bill 2002, Proceeds of Crime Bill 2002, Criminal Justice Bill 2003, Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill 2004, Sexual Offences Bill 2003, Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill 2005, Pensions Bill 2004, Housing Bill 2004; the Chair of All Party Parliamentary Groups on: Burma (jointly with John Bercow MP), On Equalities, for Citizens Advice, on Steel Industry, on Domestic and Sexual Violence; a member of All Party Parliamentary Groups on Ethiopia, Botswana, Tanzania, Great Lakes Region, India, the Falklands, Seaside Towns, Town Centre Management, Cancer Research, Cardiac Arrest in the Young and Animal Welfare.
Solicitor General for England and Wales: 2007–2010
In June 2007 Baird became the Solicitor General for England and Wales, the Senior Law Officer in the House of Commons and the Government’s Chief Legal Adviser and Criminal Justice Minister, a position she held jointly with the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland. As Senior Law Officer Baird was responsible, together with the Attorney General, for the Law Office budget and for setting the strategic direction for the Crown Prosecution Service, Serious Fraud Office, Service Prosecuting Authority (covering the Armed Forces) Treasury Solicitor's Department, Government Legal Service and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate as well as giving Lead Ministerial sponsorship to the National Fraud Authority. At this time the Law Officers also oversaw the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. A further aspect of the role of Solicitor General for England and Wales is the requirement for close liaison with various police bodies including the strategic level Association of Chief Police Officers (APCO).
As a Senior Law Officer, Baird held the responsibility, together with the Attorney General, for protecting the independence of Prosecutors; for providing legal advice to over 20 Whitehall departments and for taking action on contempt of court, (typically when press reporting of criminal cases may inappropriately influence their outcome). She represented the Government in court, in particular in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division on Unduly Lenient Sentence appeals, asking the Appeal Court to increase too lenient Crown Court sentences. She advised on charities law where there were disputes in which the State had an interest. The law officers advise on whether Bills are compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998.
As Solicitor General, Baird – together with the Attorney General – developed a pro bono committee to focus and streamline the availability of free legal advice. They set up the Access to Justice Foundation, to hold costs from pro bono cases and changed the law to allow lawyers who have acted on a for free basis to apply for costs to be put into the fund to support the organisation for future free legal work.
Baird and Scotland oversaw the introduction of Associate Prosecutors, extending the powers of less qualified prosecutors to present cases in the Magistrates Court, to save fully qualified solicitors from the need to conduct small case, so freeing them to prepare serious work for the Crown Court. They also developed and oversaw the introduction of CPS Online, a phone line for police charging advice.
With the Attorney General, Baird, as sponsor Minister, deployed a budget of £28M to implement the recommendations of the 2006 Fraud Review and established the National Fraud Authority (NFA), which became an executive agency of the Law Officers Departments (LODs) in 2008 with Dr Bernard Herdan as its Chief Executive.
Baird was a senior member of the Inter-Ministerial Group which oversaw the NFA and the co-ordination of the UK’s first National Fraud Strategy in partnership with over 28 public private and trade bodies. In April 2008, the City of London Police was established as the Lead Force on fraud, to take over complex investigations and strengthen skills and expertise in the police nationwide. In its first year took on 71 major cases involving losses to victims estimated at £1Bn. The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau was established and Baird spoke at key events, such as the Fraud Advisory Panel’s Conference to promote co-ordinated action against fraud and in particular present a new focus on prevention and protection of what had historically and wrongly been seen as a victimless crime.
In June 2007 the Law Officers approved the enhanced Digital Forensic Unit, a £1M facility expanding the ability of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to retrieve information from computers and other devices seized in investigations.
Baird and Scotland launched the Prosecutors’ Convention to streamline the operations of over 40 prosecuting bodies such as the Civil Aviation Authority, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Financial Services Authority and the Office of Fair Trading.
Baird launched the Homophobic Hate Crime strategy and a Race and Religious Hate Crime strategy, with Sir Ken Macdonald and in 2008 with the CPS launched the first public policy on cases of crime against older people.
The CPS launched its first ever violence against women strategy in 2007, the first in Government and this resulted in policies on the prosecution or rape and domestic violence being updated and publicly launched.
Baird attended the Victims' Advisory Panel where victims informed of Government policy. She visited several joint CPS and Police Witness Care Unit s to develop the information and support for witnesses. She supported the roll-out of the Witness Intermediaries’ Scheme, which provides support for witnesses with communication difficulties and the introduction of new offences to support those at risk of intimidation. Sara Payne was appointed as the first independent Victims’ Champion with a role to listen to the views and concerns of victims and witnesses, and to challenge criminal justice agencies to improve their practices..
Baird was a member of the National Criminal Justice Board which co-ordinates the agencies which collectively make up the Criminal Justice system. Here she worked with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, the Chair of the Association of Police Authorities, the Judiciary, Probation and other agencies.
Baird was Ministerial sponsor of the Cleveland Local Criminal Justice Board and of the West Yorkshire LCJB.
Police and Crime Commissioner
Other activities and points of interest
Baird was vice-chairwoman of the Fawcett Society between 1998 and 2001 and has strong links to the organisation. She founded the government funded Gender and Criminal Justice Forum at the Fawcett Society and chaired it's Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System.
She is a member of the Fabian Society, the Co-operative Party and is a National Patron of the Rape Crisis Foundation. She chairs the Society of Labour Lawyers, the Labour Criminal Justice Forum and is a Steering Committee Member of Labour Women's Network.
She is a member of Newcastle upon Tyne East Labour Party and campaigns with the sixteen Labour Parties which make up the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner electoral area. She was recently made an honorary member of the Durham Miners Association, the only woman to have that honour.
Baird has written several books concerning rape and women's experiences in court and a book on women murderers. She is currently working on a further publication and is a frequent contributor to a range of websites and magazines. She is also an honorary fellow of St Hilda's College, Oxford and of Teesside University and an honorary professor of London South Bank University.
After her 2010 Redcar election defeat Baird founded the Astraea Institute for Gender Justice along with feminist criminologist Jill Radford.
In June 2010, Baird was banned from driving for six months, having accumulated 12 penalty points on her driving licence. In August 2009, she was caught on camera doing 98 mph on the M4 motorway at Miskin, South Wales, whilst travelling to see an injured friend near Swansea. Baird travelled to Wales to ask the court to vacate the conviction which had occurred in her absence. She then pleaded guilty. She said had not received her summons which magistrates allowed but they did not accept the ban would cause her exceptional hardship. Pontypridd magistrates then re-imposed the six-month ban. She was also fined £400.
In November 2011 Baird was appointed Chair of Everywoman Safe Everywhere a Labour Party commission intended to assess the impact of government policy on women's safety in society.
On 22 November 2012 Baird won the "Outstanding Contribution Award – Judge’s Choice – Empowering Women's Award." An award sponsored by Women's Aid and Avon Cosmetics.
Parliamentary Expenses Scandal
Baird was the subject of some sensationalist claims in newspapers at the time of the expenses scandal but, along with other MPs, her claims were investigated by Sir Paul Kennedy who found that in her case she had only claimed for payments she was entitled to receive.
Baird married David Taylor-Gooby in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1972. They divorced in 1978 and she married Robert Brian Baird (born July 1928) in the same year in County Durham. A year later, in 1979, Robert Baird died from complications following open heart surgery. She has two stepsons from him. Her interests outside politics include sport and reading. She lives in Sandyford, Newcastle.
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- Eaves for Women Governance
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Redcar
|Solicitor General for England and Wales