Like most High Sheriffs, much of my activity during the year involves visiting charities and voluntary groups across Essex that are serving their communities in many different ways. For example, in the past three weeks I have visited seven different groups working variously with young people, carers of all ages, those with addictions to drugs and alcohol, new arrivals to the UK, and a group of community first responders supporting the ambulance service. Most of these may be distant from the criminal justice system – but from a perspective of social justice, they are all making a difference, offering opportunities to those who otherwise would be denied them – or at best find them difficult to access.
I have also continued a more traditional interest in the mainstream criminal justice system. I visited Chelmsford Prison for an afternoon to meet the chaplaincy team, which I learned is supported by 80 volunteers. I also met the probation and prison staff who work together to prepare prisoners for release – though this remains a difficult task in a prison where around 75% of all the men are on remand awaiting trial. Later that week I spent a day at Basildon Crown Court at the kind invitation of the Resident Judge, Her Honour Judge Leigh. I was impressed by the diligence, courtesy and care shown by all those involved in the trial and other hearings I witnessed, though a little disheartened to see a building so poorly maintained.
Then just last evening, it was joy to be a guest at the Essex Police annual Awards event. To hear the stories of the courageous, caring and determined work of officers, staff and volunteers was inspiring. At a time when there has been some justified criticism of the police in London and elsewhere, it was a timely reminder that the overwhelming majority of offices act with selflessness and dedication in the service of their communities. It was good, too, to see the growing diversity of our communities represented in Essex Police, and in those receiving awards.
Finally, last Sunday was the day of the annual Essex Justice Service. A previous High Sheriff, James Bettley who maintains this excellent website, wrote a post about it here. I was lucky to enjoy a lovely autumnal day and the company of the Honourable Mr Justice Cavanagh, many of our local judges and magistrates, the Lord Lieutenant, and the High Sheriffs of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. While there was much ancient tradition in the service, through more modern technology I can share it with you here.
Looking ahead, I am now preparing for the first of my ‘Conversations on Justice’ on 3 November at ARU in Chelmsford with Dame Vera Baird KC . Together with Dr Theresa Redmond of ARU we will be exploring whether, at last, as a society we are starting to tackle violence against women and girls and achieving justice for them more effectively. The event is free and open to the public and you can book here. Do join us.