8 December 2021
By Bill Heaney
The Catholic Church in Scotland has appointed The Hon Lady Rita Rae QC as the first Board Chair of the new Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency, which will operate as a private company. Lady Rae will begin to recruit SCSSA Board Members in January 2022.
Lady Rae has a distinguished track record as a judge in Scotland’s highest courts and in the country’s legal profession since she was admitted as a solicitor in 1974 and worked as an apprentice and assistant with a number of well-known law firms
In 1977 she became partner at Ross Harper & Murphy, until 1981. In the early 1980’s Lady Rae was on the Glasgow Bar Association Committee and served as Secretary from 1981 – 1982. She joined the Faculty of Advocates 1982 and appointed QC in 1992.
She was a member of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics between 1996-98; a member of the Sentencing Commission for Scotland between 2003 and 2006; the Glasgow Branch Chair of the Scottish Association for the Study of Offending from 2003 – 2014, now the Hon President of the Glasgow Branch; and a member of Glasgow University “Legal 40” from 2010 to date, mentoring diploma students.
Lady Rae, pictured right, has mentored other law students at various stages in their legal studies. She has given lectures on a variety of legal topics. She served as a temporary sheriff from 1987-1997, a sheriff at Glasgow from 1997 and a temporary judge at the Court of Session from 2004 – 2013. From 2001-2007 she was a member (and vice-chair from 2005) of the Parole Board for Scotland.
Lady Rae was appointed Senator of the College of Justice in Scotland in January 2014 (retired June 2020 but continues to sit part-time) In 2017 she was also appointed as an Upper Tribunal Judge in immigration and asylum cases until end 2018.
She became an Ambassador for ‘Young Citizens’ London from 2018. Prior to the start of the pandemic, she was the patron of the Street Project in Hamilton. In 2019 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Law from the University of Glasgow and was elected as Rector in April 2021.
The appointment will be widely welcomed by lay people in the Church in Scotland which has been blighted by clergy and even a cardinal being widely exposed as a abusers.
The SCSSA will operate entirely independently of the Catholic Church, with its own staff and non-executive directors who will work in close collaboration with dioceses and religious communities to ensure that they are meeting safeguarding standards.
Crucially, it will develop a forum in which those who have experienced abuse can contribute their own perspectives to the development of the Church’s safeguarding practice.
Bishop Hugh Gilbert, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said, “When considering a number of possible candidates for this important post, the Bishops were united in their view that the SCSSA Board Chair must be able to act with impartiality, integrity and freedom from interference.
“We immediately recognised that Lady Rae’s prestigious legal career, and her reputation as a recent Senator of the College of Justice in Scotland, offered great testimony to the rigour and the independence with which she will approach this role. We are delighted that she has accepted this appointment.”
One remarkable aspect to this appointment is that it has been made while the new Archbishop of Glasgow, who will succeed the late Philip Tartaglia, has yet to be appointed by Pope Francis.
Lady Rita Rae said, “I am honoured to undertake this role as the first Board Chair of the SCSSA. I recognise that, in establishing this independent agency, the Catholic Church in Scotland is taking another bold step to ensure that its safeguarding practice is meeting the highest standards.
“I intend to ensure that the agency will operate with independence and that it will seek to rebuild confidence and trust, especially among those who have experienced abuse.
“I look forward to recruiting fellow Board members who will bring rigour, independence and expertise to the work of the agency.
Lady Rae will begin to give consideration to various aspects of establishing the SCSSA, including the recruitment of Board members and staff from January 2022.