UK-based international development agency Christian Aid has announced the appointment of Anne Owers, currently Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, as their new chairperson, taking up the role later this year.
Ms Owers is a committed human rights campaigner and has also been a former director of the Justice law reform pressure group. In 2000 she received a CBE in recognition for her human rights work.
The high-profile appointment is being made in succession to the Rt Rev Dr John Gladwin, the Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford, who is standing down after 10 years as chair of Christian Aid.
"I am delighted to have been asked to succeed Bishop John Gladwin, though he will be a hard act to follow," said Ms Owers.
She continued: "I very much admire Christian Aid’s combination of practical help and powerful advocacy, and look forward to working with the Board, the staff and the member churches to tackle poverty and its causes."
Prior to her appointment as Chief Inspector of Prisons in 2001, Ms Owers held a wide range of voluntary and public positions. While director of Justice, between 1992 and 2001, perhaps her greatest achievement was to help secure the setting up of the Criminal Cases Review Commission to investigate possible miscarriages of justice.
Between 1986 and 1992 she was general secretary of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. During that period she was also a member of the Race and Community Relations Committee of the Church of England.
Her commitment to issues of diversity goes back to the 1970s, when she became a member of the Race Relations Commission of the Anglican diocese of Southwark - a pioneering piece of work in the Church at that time.
Two years ago the government considered abolishing the HM Inspector role. Ms Owers' regular reports on the prisons system have been thoughtful, thorough and often hard-hitting, say campaigners for penal reform and restorative justice. In the end she was maintained in the role.
Anne Owers was educated at Washington Grammar School in County Durham before going on to study history at Girton College, Cambridge. After graduation, she spent three years teaching in Zambia and conducting PhD research into African history.
"Anne Owers’ reputation as a leader in the voluntary sector and as a trusted and valued public servant is outstanding," said the Rev Dr David Cornick, General Secretary of Churches Together in England (CTE) and former general secretary of the United Reformed Church, who led the selection process for Christian Aid.
"So is her Christian commitment to serve the poor of the world by seeking to alleviate poverty. It is a privilege as well as a pleasure to welcome Anne to Christian Aid, and to look forward to the visionary and collaborative leadership that she will bring to its work."
Gillian Kingston, a Methodist leader and member of the Christian Aid Board from the Republic of Ireland, welcomed the "many qualities and much experience" that Ms Owers brings to the task.
"I am personally delighted that she has accepted the challenge and am confident that her appointment will be welcomed among Christian Aid's supporters and within the churches," she said.
Christian Aid "works in some of the world's poorest communities in more than 50 countries. We act where the need is greatest, regardless of religion, helping people build the life they deserve."