The theme for my year was “Against Abuse, For Recovery”. In 2019 i was appointed by the Lord Lieutenant, Michael More-Molyneux, to chair a Focus Group on Domestic Abuse. As a barrister in criminal practice from the 1970s-90s, and as a part-time and full-time judge until 2018, I was aware of the types of physical and mental abuse being perpetrated, mainly against women. I, and the members of the FG, met some of those in Surrey working to help victims. We visited the four Refuges, and organisations and charities helping victims, such as I Chose Freedom, YourSanctuary and the Women’s Support Centre in Woking, ESDAS in Reigate, Oasis in Cobham, the SCC Community Safety Team, and the Police. As High Sheriff, I wished to expand upon these contacts and give more assistance and recognition to them.
I again visited the Family Court and Her Honour Alison Raeside, the Designated Family Judge for Surrey, other judges, and discussed how the experience of complainants might be improved at Court. The Surrey Police are constantly striving to improve their handling of these cases, and give as much priority as they can to them. The officers in charge, Temp.Det.Supt. Matt Barcraft-Barnes and ACC Alison Barlow, were most helpful in keeping the Focus Group informed of the situation in the county regarding domestic abuse. I also had conversations with the Borough Commanders. More cases are being reported, though for varied reasons it’s a small proportion that result in a criminal conviction. I was told by prison governors that perhaps as many as 75% of make prisoners will have been a perpetrator, and about the same percentage of female prisoners will have been victims of it.
Baroness Helena Kennedy KC kindly came to the University of Surrey in October and gave an inspirational talk about how gradually there is more awareness of the serious problem of domestic violence, coercion and control, and violence against women. For over forty years she has been a leading campaigner for women in these areas and for women’s rights.
It is a sad fact that Covid and lockdowns saw an increase in abuse. Although more is being done to help victims, more resources are required, whether in the form of more refuges or extra counselling services. The adverse effects upon children are also of great concern. Court delays, resulting from Covid and the strike by the Criminal Bar, have not helped. But the Crown and Magistrate’s Courts strive to prioritise DA cases.
The second aspect of my theme led me to try and give help and recognition to those assisting people badly affected by the pandemic. So many have had their lives and normal routines upset. This has brought confusion and uncertainty. Jobs have disappeared, children have been disturbed by the lack of attendance at school. Teachers have had to cope with more difficulties regarding discipline in the classroom, noticeably even in Year 3. There has been an increase in problems with mental health among all ages. It is now more evident what strains and anxieties lockdown and Covid have brought. Again, the resources are inadequate, with a shortage of counsellors, mental health nurses and consultants. The work of EIKON, the Matrix Trust, Oakleaf, Catalyst, East to West, Emerge Advocacy, to name but a few, is vital.
At my Garden Party at the Veterinary School at the University of Surrey, twenty charities set up stalls. This meant my guests could meet those working for domestic abuse, mental health and other charities, and also make donations. I brought together at four dinners, people working respectively in domestic abuse; in environmental and sustainability areas; in the field of mental health and finally, in the area of education. The evenings provided the opportunity for discussion, the exchange of knowledge and ideas, and for future contact. There are so many talented people in our county, and it was a great pleasure to engage with them and enjoy hearing about their specialty.
My wife and I met so many kind people during my year; volunteers, part and full-time employees of charities, and those employed in the Emergency Services. It has been an uplifting experience, and I thank them all for their valuable work and their kind welcome to us. They deserve the thanks of all who live in Surrey for, without them, the hardship would be so much worse.