At a ceremony at Oxford Crown Court on Tuesday, Lady Jay of Ewelme CBE was sworn in as the 2019/20 High Sheriff of Oxfordshire. During her year, Sylvia hopes to raise awareness of issues to do with crime and punishment, and of work done by many voluntary, charitable and statutory bodies in our community to prevent criminal behaviour. The High Sheriff of Oxfordshire’s Charitable Fund is held and managed by OCF.
The office of High Sheriff is the oldest secular office in country outside the monarchy. Today, the former very extensive powers which the office enjoyed have gone and the role involves a mix of ceremonial, charitable and community functions. The role is voluntary, unfunded and non-political.
Sylvia Jay was a senior civil servant working in Whitehall and Paris until 1995. She entered the private sector as Director General of the UK Food and Drink Federation in 2001, became Vice Chairman, then Chairman of L’Oréal UK from 2005 to 2013 and has served as a non-executive Director on a number of large companies. She continues to be on the Boards of Lazard Ltd and the Casino Supermarket Group.
Her voluntary work has mainly been to do with prison reform and conservation of churches. She is married to Michael, former UK Ambassador in Paris and head of the Foreign Office, who now sits as a Cross Bencher in the Lords.
In her Swearing in speech, Sylvia talked about her experience and her aims for the year. She said: ‘‘For much of my working life I have volunteered in prisons in the UK, France and America and been Chairman or a Trustee of charities dealing with justice issues. Over the years I have seen many examples of selfless, positive work by individuals, governmental institutions and charities trying to help prisoners. But there are equally many examples of seemingly senseless bureaucracy, frightening overcrowding, intimidation, violence and a huge rate of recidivism. Roughly two thirds go back into prison within a couple of years of being released. We have not yet got it right. I plan to spend as much time as possible with Magistrates, Judges and key people in related occupations, learning from them about how they work and the problems they face. I also plan, during the year, to give opportunities for eminent people who, directly or indirectly, have experience of our justice system, to help further the debate about how we should deal with crime. The main charities I plan to support are based in, or strongly linked to, Oxfordshire. In their different ways, all help people who are, or who have been, in prison. This help ranges from finding accommodation and jobs to helping adjust to life outside, including overcoming addictions. Their work is not just about doing good – it involves positive, even self interested, action to help create a less criminal society.’’
Sylvia Jay takes over from Richard Venables as High Sheriff. During his tenure, Richard focused his attention on youth participation in sporting and cultural activities in the most deprived areas as well as raising awareness of mental health issues in secondary schools and colleges. Richard believes passionately that sport and physical activity is an essential component to a happy and healthy life and can transform lives. Richard’s fund has raised, so far, over £125,000. He continues to chair OCF’s responsible business group Reciprocate.
In his speech at the ceremony, Richard said: ‘‘I wish the new High Sheriff every success in her year. I have come to learn that every High Sheriff does it slightly differently, there are a few set pieces but otherwise you dictate the script and the pace. I know I have set a bit of a fierce pace but Sylvia will be delighted that there is no obligation to run a parkrun, marathon or further. The High Sheriff is one of the few positions which gets complete oversight of the County. We get to join dots and this is more important than ever in this era where the voluntary sector is struggling with funding.’’
Find out more about the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire’s Charitable Fund and the charities supported this year.