Greater London News 2017/2018

November 2017

1 November – AGM and Lunch
The High Sherriff’s annual general meeting and lunch at Fishmongers Hall. A most enjoyable occasion, particularly the lunch and a very good speech by David Neuberger who has recently stepped down as President of the Supreme Court. David is a fine speaker and wears his learning exceedingly lightly and his observations and humour were of the usual self-deprecatory nature. Everyone enjoyed the event with many having to hurry back to their far flung Shires. It was good to see Simon Hall, High Sherriff of Essex and James Bagge, High Sherriff of Norfolk both fellow solicitors.

3 November – Wormwood Scrubs
A visit to HMP Wormwood Scrubs as a guest of Amy Ross the deputy governor. Rather more time on this visit spent in the prison block itself, as I was shown how prisoners were brought into the prison to an initial unit to get them used to the idea and then introduced to the main blocks via medical inspections etc. While the atmosphere was good these Victorian prisons do have a real sense of foreboding about them. However, here there were systems in place where prisoners adept at filling in a whole variety of forms which are required as part of prison life assist those less adept. This seems to work very well and clearly among the prisoners there are astute bureaucrats. As usual I tried not to ask what the prisoners I meet were convicted of, although I am intrigued by a hugely respected and charming middle aged prisoner who clearly wishes to help his fellow inmates. It turns out he was a bank robber.

6 November – Southwark Cathedral Legal Service
A service at Southwark Cathedral in the presence of the Bishop of Southwark and the Dean of Service to mark the opening of the legal year for those Courts situated within Southwark. Again, there is a full procession of Judges and we were in the presence of the President of the Supreme Court among other senior judges. Following the retirement of the Honorary Recorder for Southwark, His Honour Judge Roger Chapple, Her Honour Judge Usha Karu accepts her appointment as the new Honorary Recorder and says a few words. The choir sing beautifully and the service is followed by a reception nearby which seems to be enjoyed by one and all. I meet again friends from Blackfriars Crown Court and Croydon Crown Court.

8 November – Inner London Crown Court
So shortly after seeing Her Honour Judge Usha Karu installed as Honorary Recorder for Southwark with the Under Sherriff we visit her Court, the Inner London Crown Court. A magnificent early 20th century building more reminiscent of a mini Old Bailey than any other court I have visited. We again sit beside the Judge to hear some preliminary matters before lunching with Judges and Recorders and having a most enjoyable chat. The issue of sentencing very senior defendants for historic offenses (usually sexual) arises again and I get a new record for the oldest person sentenced in the Court (here nearly 90 years of age).

October 2017

2 October – Opening of the Legal Year Service and Reception
This marked the opening of the legal year where a service is held in Westminster Abbey and a reception in Westminster Hall. The procession of Judges into the Abbey takes 20 minutes all in their best breeches, red and purple robes (or black and gold for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal) and in the presence of the Lord Chancellor. A most impressive occasion and as always in the Abbey run like clockwork.

13 October – Westminster Coroner’s Court
A visit to the Westminster Coroner’s Court to meet the coroner, Dr Fiona Wilcox. The Court had been taken over by the Grenfell Tower disaster and the coroner described the work that had had to take place to identify the victims of the fire and to discover causes of death. The work that had been done in connection with identification (particularly from dental records) was quite extraordinary and I have nothing but admiration for those involved.

19 October – High Sherriff Award Ceremony
The High Sherriff’s Award Ceremony at the Supreme Court in the presence of the President Lady Hale and three other Supreme Court Judges as well as the Lord Lieutenant and Commissioner of Police. The award ceremony took place in the main supreme court. Twelve recipients of awards under the provisions of the Criminal Law Act 1826 were present (with friends and family) to receive the awards. This is a most uplifting occasion and as the Lord Lieutenant, Kenneth Olisa, said it showed a lot of what London was all about. The recipients were representative of the highly cosmopolitan nature of the capital city and had carried out acts of great courage and determination. The Commissioner of Police also spoke words of thanks to the worthy recipients and a short reception followed where for the first time in my life I was eagerly demanded for photo calls…… We are all most grateful to Lady Hale for making her Court available for the ceremony.

24 October – Croydon Crown Court – HHJ Warwick McKinnon
A visit to the Croydon Crown Court as a guest of His Honour Judge Warwick McKinnon. The Judge was in fact about to retire and hand over to Alice Robinson who I had met at Woolwich (who interestingly had been a member of my older brother’s chambers at 2 Paper Buildings in the distant past). Another interesting morning in Court and a most enjoyable lunch with the Judges and Recorders.

31 October – Service to Mark 500th Anniversary of the 95 Theses created by Rev’d Martin Luther
Attending a further service at Westminster Abbey this time to mark the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses created by Martin Luther. The preacher was the Archbishop of Canterbury and both Roman Catholic and Lutheran Church were very well represented, particularly the latter (for obvious reasons) and there was acknowledgement from the Archbishop to the representative of the Roman Catholic London Diocese and the Lutheran Church of the acceptance by all of Luther’s doctrine of “justification by faith”.

August 2017

1 August – St Giles Trust
A meeting with Rob Owen OBE Chief Executive of St Giles Trust, Camberwell. The Trust does wonderful work with ex-offenders and indeed employs a fair few. We discussed the problems of employment for ex-offenders, the campaign to “ban the box” (the box job applicants have to tick if they have a criminal record) and the problems facing all those coming out of prison possibly to no accommodation, a broken family or marriage, and possibly with mental health or addiction problems. Looking in the situation it may appear rather hopeless, but that certainly isn’t Rob Owen’s approach.

8 August – New Scotland Yard
A meeting at New Scotland Yard with Cressida Dick the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. She is everything I had expected and more. Impressively in charge at the same time as coming personally to pick me up from a waiting room. She gives me an hour of her time and are discuss policing issues and matters relating to ex-offenders and re-offending.

July 2017

3 July
I met the Chief Executive of the charity Leap (Confronting Conflict) who had been a contact also of my predecessor and heard about their work transforming conflict into opportunity. They work in prisons but also outside. A further meeting later in the week was with Peter Dawson of the Prison Reform Trust who had a proposal for which I offered to try and get sponsorship. I will be reporting more on that in due course.

7 July – Blackfriars Crown Court
I visited Blackfriars Crown Court as a guest of His Honour Judge John Hillen. Here in addition to being shown round the court (as I had been shown around at Woolwich) I also saw the area which housed the really quite small bureaucracy for the jury service for the whole of southern England. Another first was a visit to the cells run by Serco.

12 July – High Sheriff Association Council Lunch
At the invitation of Jeremy Burton I attended the Council lunch at Boodles where following the chance to meet some members of the Council I was given the opportunity to let the Council know how things were going in Greater London and plans that I had with regard to assistance of ex-offenders with the voluntary sector working in prisons.

27 July – Feltham Prison
With the Under-Sherriff I visited HMYOI Feltham. Set in 97 acres the red brick modern building has something of the feeling of a 70’s educational establishment (cloister like connections between buildings, but more bars than would be usual elsewhere). Dealing with young offenders up to the age of 21 (when they are released but only as far as “adult” prison) the prison houses over 600 juveniles/young offenders and did not receive a particularly favourable report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons in the recent past. However, the Governor Glenn Knight was rather more upbeat about the situation and certainly the atmosphere in the prison seemed good. The Governor Glenn was keen that his staff did not treat the young offenders as seasoned criminals (there were in fact 23 murderers in Feltham) and old-fashioned prison language was discouraged. As might be expected, one of the principle problems is with members of rival gangs who are in the prison, but this is addressed by the presence also of a Metropolitan Police Trident gang unit within the prison.

June 2017

6 June – Chief Inspector of Prisons meeting
The Under Sheriff and I visited Peter Clarke HM Chief Inspector of Prisons at his offices close to my own. The Inspectorate in fact are in charge of inspecting all places of detention not just prisons and they clearly have a very demanding job which they try and discharge within the context of previously ever decreasing funding for prisons. The meeting caused me to reread former Chief Inspector Lord Ramsbottom’s ‘Prisongate’ published in 2003. Alas little appears to change.

7 June – HS Service at Inner Temple
The Under Sheriff and I were guests with other High Sheriffs of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple where we enjoyed a splendid meal and the opportunity to meet other High Sheriffs. The dinner was very well attended and of course there were many judges there as well.

13 June – Prison Reform Trust Dinner
On the evening of 13 June I was entertained for dinner at Harry’s Bar by Julian Richer (the founder of “Richer Sounds”) who was hosting on behalf of the Prison Reform Trust. There I met, among others, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, Peter Dawson, and their Chairman James Timpson (of Timpsons, a company which has a policy of employing ex-offenders which make up approximately 10% of their workforce). This was a fascinating evening.

19-20 June
On 19 and 20 June I had two meetings with the Prince’s Trust (Dermot Finch and Dame Martina Milburn, their Chief Executive). This was to discuss the work that had been done through the Prince’s Trust with Sir Nigel Knowles, my predecessor as High Sheriff, and how this work could be continued not only during my year but subsequently.
On 19 June I also attended the High Courts of Justice for the swearing in of the new Lord Chancellor David Lidington, in Court 4 (the same court as that used for the swearing in of the High Sheriff (the Lord Chief Justice’s Court). The Lord Chief Justice commented to me at the reception afterwards that he had recently sworn in more Lord Chancellors than he had High Sheriffs and there had certainly been a bit of a turnover in that appointment.
Lord Thomas clearly takes the office of High Sheriff very seriously as I found myself on the ‘front bench’ of the court sitting next to the Lord Mayor of London.

26 June – Woolwich Crown Court
I visited Woolwich Crown Court as a guest of His Honour Judge Christopher Kinch QC. I was pleased initially to sit in the court of Christopher Kinch, and subsequently to hear the opening of the defence in a money laundering trial in the court of HH Judge Alice Robinson by a James Wood QC. While I only heard the first 45 minutes of this opening I was quite convinced at the end of it that the seven defendants were all pure as driven snow. I was sitting in open court in this instance (not beside the Judge as had been the practice previously) and when the defendants were let out (they were all on bail) for the lunchtime break one of them approached me to admire my badge of office…

28 June – Citizenship Ceremony
I visited the Westminster Register Office to witness a Citizenship Ceremony performed by the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Councillor Ian Adams. It is a short ceremony but full of meaning and all those who will in due course be given a British passport were required to give an oath of loyalty to the Crown. Many different countries were represented, and sitting close to me were a slightly elderly Turkish couple who when I mentioned seemed to have adjusted to British dress (they were both immaculately turned out) I was informed that in fact the man had worked in the city for the last 40 years.

May 2017

9 May – Service of Celebration and Hope at Westminster Abbey
My next official function was on 9 May at Westminster Abbey where I attended a service of Celebration and Hope organised around the charity DrugFAM with the theme of “Lives worth talking about”. It was a very moving occasion and a slight sense of returning home as I was conducted to my seat in the Choir at Westminster Abbey where I sang in the school choir nearly 50 years ago. The founder of the charity Elizabeth Burton-Phillips spoke movingly about the loss of her son Nick and the Abbey was packed with friends and supporters and others who had been helped by the charity which supports those with family members suffering from drug or alcohol addiction.

11 May – Wood Green Crown Court
On 11 May I made my first Crown Court visit to Wood Green where my host was the ever genial His Hon Judge Noel Lucas QC. The Under Sheriff and I sat in on the listings hearing conducted under Judge Peter Ader. I was very impressed at how the ushers and clerks kept everything moving throughout the morning. There are now video links to prisons to facilitate getting on with the business of the court without having to transport prisoners across London. In one incidence we saw a man plead guilty to attempted burglary and be sentenced on video link. Judge Peter Ader was unfailingly courteous to Counsel and those at the sharp end of the criminal justice system and the Under Sheriff and I enjoyed a most amusing lunch with the other judges of the court. The court itself is a magnificent gothic building formerly a Masonic school, much extended and opened in 1990 with ten courts.

In Judge Lucas’s view the period of four weeks after leaving prison was the most critical to prevent re-offending. If prisoners could be housed and found employment he felt that that would have a significant effect. That was rather borne out by the fact that the man we had seen sentenced on video link had only been out of prison a couple of months…I was reminded of what the Governor of Wandsworth had said.

23 May – Service of Thanksgiving to celebrate the Centenary of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Service at Westminster Abbey
The service as usual was packed. There were testimonies to the work of the Commission from Commonwealth representatives and the prayers were led by members of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission from around the world. As always the singing and liturgy as a whole was very moving.

23 May – Royal Garden Party
That afternoon was a garden party at Buckingham Palace at which a number of High Sheriffs were present although I only met the High Sheriff of Cornwall, Sarah Coryton. As ever thronged with people on a lovely afternoon.

25 May – High Sheriff Reception
The two Sheriffs of the City of London gave a reception for High Sheriffs at the Old Bailey. It was my first visit to these historic courts and High Sheriffs from around the country were generously entertained.

31 May – Kingston Crown Court
I visited Kingston Crown Court with the Under Sheriff. We enjoyed the earlier part of the morning in His Honour Judge Lodder QC’s court where he ran through his list with the paperless efficiency which might alarm many solicitors…
Later in the morning we visited the court of Vice Judge Advocate General Judge Michael Hunter to see the opening of a cross examination of a witness in a paedophile case, the witness behind screens so as to be not visible to the defendant while visible to counsel and the jury.

April 2017

10 April 2017 – Swearing in Ceremony
With a few friends and the Under Sheriff, Lynn Johansen, I attended Court 4 in the Royal Courts of Justice to be sworn in by the Lord Chief Justice, the Right Honourable the Lord Thomas of Cwmgied. We had a pleasant chat before the ceremony and on entering the court I found that my guests were seated in the Jury box next to the Judge. The ceremony is a short one but the wording of the declaration obviously ancient. Declaring in the High Court that I would “behave myself” caused a few smiles among the “jury”, already mouthing “guilty as charged”. After the ceremony my guests met the Lord Chief Justice as well as the Senior Master Barbara Fontaine, Master Michael Egan QC, Mr Justice Mark Warby and “Mrs” Justice Mary O’Farrell. I had already decided to continue my predecessor’s theme for his year as High Sheriff of increasing opportunities for young offenders working with the Prince’s Trust.

Before the ceremony on 31 March I took the opportunity of having a meeting with Mr Kenneth Olisa OBE HM Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London at his offices in Whitehall. He has a plan and mission statement for his time as Lord-Lieutenant “Building bridges for a fairer London”. Ken is full of energy and very good fun and I am looking forward to seeing more of him during my year.

25 April 2017 – Wandsworth Prison
April 25 saw me make a visit to Wandsworth Prison. I met the acting Governor Jeanne Bryant (subsequently her appointment as Governor has been confirmed) and had a good talk with her, particularly about employment opportunities for prisoners on release. I was then shown round the educational facilities in Trinity Wing of the Prison by Harsimran Sethi and Cynthia Clottey. I was struck by a remarkable lack of world-weariness of cynicism in their approach. The prisoners and prison officers are on first name terms and the educational opportunities are very much aimed at setting up prisoners for life outside the institution. These range from literacy and numeracy through plastering, tiling and other building skills to cooking and indeed embroidery with the charity Fine Cell Work doing the teaching. The charity Bounce Back Foundation were also very much involved and I met a prisoner about to be released who had been offered a job through their scheme with the contractors Ardmore. He was keen to get to work, commenting that he would make more money with Ardmore than as (in his own words) “a rather mediocre drug dealer”.

On departure the Governor commented “what these prisoners need is hope”.