Each year the Company arranges a number of supper lectures at a variety of venues. The most important of these is the annual Gloucestershire Lecture, given by a well known figure and covering a topic of national significance; the 2015 and 2016 Lectures are summarised below. Other lectures tend to focus more parochially on issues of specific relevance to the county. We have also been instrumental in setting up the Annual Gloucestershire Schools’ Christmas Lectures; there’s more on the 2016 Lectures here.
The 2016 Gloucestershire Lecture was given by His Honour Judge Jamie Tabor QC, Resident Judge at Gloucester Crown Court. A summary of his lecture, entitled 'A Life of Crime and Punishment', is provided below.
The judge began by setting out the role of judges in maintaining the rule of law and their place in the judiciary. Here he acknowledged the importance of lay magistrates – they deal with 95% of cases – and the 600 Circuit Judges in 92 Crown Courts, effectively the engine room of the criminal justice system; they try the vast majority of serious cases. He went on to reflect on the changes introduced by the 1971 Courts Act: out went Quarter Sessions and the Assizes to be replaced by Crown Courts, which sit full time; and town recorders of towns have now largely disappeared, except in London, Liverpool and Manchester. Nearer the pinnacle of the judiciary sit 108 High Court Judges in one of 3 divisions: Queen’s Bench, Family and Chancery. Above them are the Lord Justices of Appeal, then the Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls and the presidents of the various divisions, until finally we reach the Supreme Court. For most appellants their last resort is the Court of Appeal.
Returning to the Crown Court and the spectrum of cases it hears, Judge Tabor dwelt for some time on the issue that creates the most publicity and causes the greatest problems – sentencing. That said, the creation of the Sentencing Council has created a beneficial degree of uniformity. This led to a discussion of the exponential rise in the number of people currently imprisoned – up by 50% in the last 40 years and 21% in the last 15. With some 86,000 now locked up, the UK has one of the highest prison populations in Europe. More worrying still, we also have one of the most overcrowded prison estates, a situation compounded by a high rate of recidivism (40% of prisoners are back in prison within a year).
The judge concluded by reflecting on the key issues that currently face us: prison overcrowding, prison closures, staff reductions, privatization of the probation system and reductions in legal aid – all of which led to a lively Q&A session prior to the customary excellent supper courtesy of the Royal Agricultural University.
The 2015 Gloucestershire Lecture was given by Sir David Bell KCB, Vice-Chancellor of Reading University. His lecture was entitled ‘Education, Education, Education - Fit for the 21st Century?’. A summary of his lecture is provided below:
Sir David used higher education as the prism through which to view the rest of the UK’s education system and began by arguing that higher education in the UK is a great success story, citing:
All of this has been achieved whilst spending a lower proportion of GDP (1.2%) than the OECD average (1.6%). Sir David went on to address three conditions for success: freedom and autonomy, competition and collaboration, and teaching and research. But he also saw three potential threats: funding – where the issue was growth or stagnation; the UK itself, were we open or closed, and the world, would east or west dominate? As if these weren’t challenges enough, he concluded by posing three key questions: how do we develop the rounded student? How do we connect better to the outside world? And finally, have we got the balance right between the academic and vocational?