High Sheriffs Awards
Five months into the shrieval year and one begins to feel that the role is taking shape – very much proving what we are told at Sheriffs’ school during the nomination period – namely get a feel for the job but don’t go in with any preconceived ideas. This is our year, we are paying, and there is a role to be fulfilled, but take every opportunity to do so in a manner with which you feel comfortable in yourself, with no real starting agenda and a true voyage of discovery ahead.
I decided to go right back to basics initially, as my time would be limited due to trying to continue full-time work as a land agent and farmer. The High Sheriff is appointed as The Queen’s judicial representative and I decided that my focus would always be on the courts and the legal system, but reasonably widely interpreted. If I chose to, therefore, I could involve myself in any body or activity which related in some way to those in Kent who endeavour to keep society on the straight and narrow.
At the same time, I could see that it was necessary to recognise that the High Sheriff regularly has to perform a ceremonial role and I have enjoyed attendance at cathedral services in both Canterbury and Rochester, as well as being part of the receiving line for royal visits, and attending other functions as a dignitary, such as lesson reading at the Kent British Legion Service and wreath laying at the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust lunch.
I think it is also right to take part in a reasonable number of civic events. I have attended several mayors’ functions and taken a particular interest in the activities of the Kent County Council, and of Medway Council, which is the only unitary authority within Kent and includes Rochester and its cathedral and castle. The High Sheriff should also take an interest in administrative life, since within that there are the various public sector institutions, such as police, prison service and so on who are at the heart of law keeping in the county. The Kent Police are an impressive organisation and we must hope that fears are unfounded in relation to too much politics entering policing with the new Police and Crime Commissioners.
The prison sector is fascinating and is one of the places where realisation dawns in relation to the sheltered life led by most of us. That comes home time and time again in visits to the voluntary sector where the wealth of relevant organisations all need support and thanks, and where regular networking opportunities arise. I enjoyed an open and uplifting discussion with drug and alcohol addicts, all of whom had prison records back into their childhood and many of whom recognised they were in the last chance saloon. Their determination and bravery was exemplary, but I fear there will be some who do not make it. A night out with the Street Pastors is another eye-opening experience. To see a bad evening outside a nightclub, with bouncers being goaded by inebriated clubbers and the incidents that arise, is a salutary and shattering commentary on a certain sector of contemporary young society.
Interaction with the armed services is highly rewarding, but should be cleared with the Lord-Lieutenant, whose territory this largely is. Nevertheless I have enjoyed various functions with all three services and these have provided valuable insight, particularly where community issues arise in a number of Kentish towns. I have had the privilege to make presentations at awards ceremonies for the police, territorials and army and air force cadets. The power of awards is fascinating. In many ways the recipient is the least significant part of the formula, as the pride, thrill and general boost in morale that is felt by a recipient’s family and peer group is immense and hugely beneficial to morale. This has led me to work with the Chairman of Kent County Council in an initiative to introduce more awards in the general community and hopefully the initiative can be passed on to my successor High Sheriffs to promote and continue.
I had always intended to try to ensure that I could engage in activities which would provide the High Sheriff with a more visible profile. Wherever I go, I am asked what the role involves, and in the 21st century I think it is imperative that the High Sheriff’s activities are visible. To that end I ran a litter campaign in the local press to cover the run-up to the Olympic Games. Kent’s roads are not a source of great pride and a number of newspapers took this on board, together with PR initiatives alongside the Mayor of Medway and the Kent Wildlife Trust. There is no reason why this should not continue.
I have also been partly instrumental in a focus on rural crime which fits in with my everyday life as a land agent and farmer. Kent Police have formed a Rural Advisory Group, which I am to chair and we shall be looking to increase the effectiveness of policing in Kent’s rural areas.
A visit to Whitstable Lifeboat Station.
It would be easy to consider ceremonial activities as relatively neutral, but my attendance at the Greenwich University graduation ceremony in Rochester Cathedral introduced me to a lecturer in engineering. This enabled me to introduce Greenwich University, recognised as the greenest university in the country, to an agricultural initiative which I am chairing as part of my everyday work. In turn, the possibility of interaction with Kent’s other two universities, in Canterbury, became an obvious target and I am seeking to develop contacts between the Kent Shrievalty and the Kent University Law School, as well as a dialogue with Christ Church University in Canterbury, which is carrying out some new work on the Magna Carta ready for its 800th anniversary in 2015. The sheriffs were hugely involved in spreading the word at that time on behalf of King John, and I hope we can gain some involvement for the shrievalty alongside the university’s work.
So far as entertaining is concerned, the opportunities are limitless, but I am sure every High Sheriff must consider the options with an eye to a level of budget which is sustainable for successors. I decided not to hold a traditional garden party, but, with my agricultural interests, to host an evening reception on the Friday of the Kent County Show. That had the dual benefit of utilising existing infrastructure and, more importantly, marketing the County Show to a sector of the community which would have known little about it. This was successful. We were also lucky with the weather for the High Sheriff’s tent at Canterbury Cricket Week. Bearing in mind the cost, this type of entertainment has to be questionable bearing in mind weather risk, but we got away with it and entertained a good number of the East Kent magistrates to lunch. I think it is important to engage with the bench and also with coroners and district judges. Three of my most fascinating mornings have been sitting with the Dover and Gravesend Coroners, and in Dartford County Court, observing the calm and skilled administration relating to a variety of horrors and social problems. The coroners will be attending court lunches, where several other unsung heroes can be entertained and introduced to the judicial community.
Addressing guests at the Kent County Show.
From my perspective, the role of High Sheriff requires a full-on commitment, but combines very well with my work, which covers Kent as a whole. I am lucky to know all parts of the county and travel round it on a daily basis, an opportunity not available to many High Sheriffs – hence to my mind, the importance of creating initiatives which can be followed through over successive periods of tenure. The profile of the shrievalty must be enhanced, and that is certainly one of the objectives for the remainder of my year.
One judge expressed to me the sentiment that much of the work of the civil and criminal courts arises from the debris of capitalist society. As High Sheriffs we can see what he means and there is ample scope to help in many ways.
High Sheriff of Kent 2012/2013