Laureation address: The Rt Hon Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws
Laureation by Professor John Hudson FBA, School of History

Thursday 22 June 2017


Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Dame Elish Angiolini.

Elish Angiolini grew up in Govan, in a family that she says greatly valued education. Her earliest memories of St Andrews involve wearing her swimming costume and walking, hand in hand with her father, to investigate enthusiastically the rock pools on the East Sands. After school, she went on to study Law at Strathclyde University, graduating in 1982. She then trained at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

In 1997, Dame Elish was appointed Head of Policy in the Crown Office, with responsibility for policy development across all Department functions. In particular, she helped prepare for Devolution and the Scotland Act 1998. During her legal career, Dame Elish also developed her long-standing interest in improving support offered to vulnerable victims and witnesses. She worked to improve the confidence of minority communities and domestic violence victims in the Crown Prosecution Service.

She became Solicitor General of Scotland in 2001 and then Lord Advocate of Scotland in 2006. In both instances she was the first woman, the first Procurator Fiscal, and the first solicitor to hold either post.

When the Labour administration lost the election of 2007, and was replaced by the Scottish Nationalist-headed minority government, she assumed that her term of office was over. She duly received a telephone call from Alex Salmond, who asked what she was doing. ‘I’m sitting with my office clear and my bags packed’, she replied ... only to find that the First Minister was retaining her in her position. She is particularly proud of this recognition of her capacity to keep the legal above the daily conflicts of the political.

Having ceased to be Lord Advocate in 2011, she has continued working on legal matters, notably through undertaking reviews and heading commissions. She chaired the Commission on Women Offenders which reported in April 2012. In 2014, she completed a major review into the Investigation and Prosecution of Rape in London by the Metropolitan Police Service and the Crown Prosecution Service. In 2016, she carried out an Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody with reference to England and Wales. I could go on, but we agreed that I shouldn't because it would take too long and make your morning too miserable hearing all the commissions that she has headed. As the Chaplain said in his wonderful address in chapel this morning, dark corners are plenty in our world, but at the same time it is reasonable to be thankful that these dark corners are investigated, and thank those investigators who undertake them under such good leadership.

Dame Elish is Chancellor of the University of the West of Scotland. She has also been Principal of St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford since September 2012. St Hugh’s is now the third largest Oxford college, with approximately 850 students. She is hugely liked within the College, and is noted for the excellent atmosphere that she has created and her outstanding ability to get the best out of all members of her Senior Common Room, including those whose collaborative talents had previously been under-recognised and under-utilised.

Dame Elish has continued to visit and have connections with St Andrews. She admits that on occasion during some conference sessions her mind has wandered to rock pools on the East Sands, but we are very pleased that she serves on the Advisory Board of the University’s recently created Institute of Legal and Constitutional Research.

At St Andrews, the LLD, the Doctor of Laws, is sometimes used as a catch-all honourary degree for people who fit in no other category. It is therefore a particular pleasure to be honouring such a distinguished legal figure today.

Chancellor, in recognition of her major contribution to legal matters in Scotland, public service, and higher education, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on Dame Elish Angiolini.


Response from Dame Elish Angiolini

Chancellor, Principal, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, and graduates.

To say that I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be here today is an understatement. When I was in East Sands in the rock pools, even with the precociousness which I have manifested most of my life, I didn’t dare dream of such a great honour as has been bestowed upon me today. Einstein has said that imagination is simply a prelude or a preview of the coming attractions in your life. And indeed not then did I think that I would be here on this stage with such a glittering gathering. And indeed, in the presence of my personal legal hero, and someone who’s a national treasure, a man who when times are turbulent and uncertain in life knows exactly what to say to keep the country stable and on the right road.

And indeed, your principal is such a sore loss also to Oxford University, that we are still reeling and somewhat sore about it. Nonetheless, I was comforted this morning when I got into the taxi to come to the most beautiful service in the chapel, which is in St Salvator’s, and the taxi driver said to me, “So you’re going to St Sallies then, are you?”, and I said, “Gosh, she’s been canonised already.” I wouldn’t have been remotely surprised.

Can I offer my warmest congratulations to each and every one of the graduates today. You have been working so hard, you’ve been using your great intellectual agility, to get to where you are today. It is a very special day, and it’s ironic that given all of that work, the dreaming that you have had, that you race across this platform like a Formula 1 driver. But now you can relax, you can savour the moment, this very special moment in your life, the threshold of things to come, which none of us can predict, but in which respect I wish you every success and happiness. And I also recognise that you did not get that degree on your own; there a whole pile of people here who are conspirators and associates in that same enterprise. And also your family and your friends here today who put up with those tetchy moments when the essays were late and had to do the dishes even when you were home – they are part of this great success story that you are today.

I hope that given this opportunity I have with you as a captive audience, I get to wish you every best wish for life. It’s difficult to crystalise precisely what it is I would wish for you, but I wish you all great tranquility and peace in life, as well as every success in your chosen career, because you are the future – you are the people we rely on to get us out of this turbulent uncertain mess that we are in at the moment on this planet. And I also wish you to give your parents and your great friends and loved ones the gift of your time, because no matter how noble your occupation, no one ever said on their death bed that they’d wished they’d spent more time at the office. So please ensure that you remember the people who are with you today and that you have a wonderful life and take great care.

My professor said to me when I left university that I should be brave and be yourself. And I wish that to you also. Thank you.