The Shrieval Lecture – November 23rd 2018

120 or so gathered in Court #1 at the Shire Hall, Hereford to hear The Right Hon. Sir David Latham, a retired High Court judge and past Chairman of the Parole Board, deliver a lecture on “Have we become a risk-averse society?”. Here is a link to his Wikipedia entry.

The short answer was probably “Yes”. However, his lecture and the questions afterwards covered a broad range of situations. As former Chairman of the Parole Board, this was his starting point. The recent publicity surrounding the Worboys case gave the lecture a strong topicality. It raised a number of difficult questions about parole and parole hearings in particular. It highlighted society’s intolerance of wrong decisions, preferring no decisions at all so that they can never be wrong even if most of the decisions are right.

Sir David gave some statistics on the reoffending rate of prisoners released on parole. These statistics can be found on page 29 of the Parole Board annual accounts for 2016/17 here. The whole report is an interesting read for anyone wanting to understand better our prison system and the role of the Parole Board in it. The number of releases in 2013 was 3,048 and the number of Serious Further Offences (note “serious” so the others may not have been angels) was 12; in 2014, 3,248/23; in 2015, 3,596/29; in 2016, 3,800/22. Is this an acceptable rate? It seems low though someone in the audience said that this would not be an acceptable risk rate in the building industry! Should we have kept 3,800 people locked up to prevent 22 serious crimes? Would Society be prepared to pay for that approach?

No easy answers as is so often the case with human behaviour.

A very interesting lecture for which we thank Sir David. Funds were raised for the Hereford Cathedral Perpetual Trust and the High Sheriff’s fund at the Herefordshire Community Foundation (which will go to Social Care charities).