Royal Commission on Criminal Justice: Cambridge don whose wisdom won over dissenters: Adam Sage profiles the team which carried out the largest study of criminal justice

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The Independent Online
WHEN THE members of the Royal Commission were appointed two years ago, they were welcomed by all sides of the legal profession. Lawyers said that Kenneth Baker, the then Home Secretary, had selected people of independence and intellectual rigour to undertake the largest study of criminal justice in England and Wales.

There were a few dissenting voices who pointed out that many of the commission's members came from within the system and wereunlikely, therefore, to put forward revolutionary proposals.

However, even the dissenters acknowledged the wisdom that lay behind the choice of Viscount Runciman of Doxford, millionaire ship owner and Cambridge don, to head the first Royal Commission since the Conservatives came to power in 1979.

An old Etonian and former Grenadier Guards officer, Lord Runciman became a sociologist and served as treasurer of the Child Poverty Action Group for more than 20 years.

The austere, bespectacled, hereditary peer is a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and a former president of the General Council of British Shipping. He became chairman of the family shipping firm, Walter Runciman plc, in 1976 at a time when the industry was in decline. Fourteen years later, after an epic battle, he accepted a pounds 7-a-share takeover by a Swedish company. His business acumen was recognised with his appointment as chairman of the privately owned Andrew Weir & Co shipping company.

He married Ruth Hellmann, from a prominent liberal South African family, in 1963. They have a son and two daughters.

After Lord Runciman, the most influential member of the committee is probably Michael Zander, Professor of Law at the London School of Economics and architect of the huge Crown Court study that formed the backbone of the commission's research.

His opposition to the commission's proposal to require advance disclosure of the defence case, and his willingness to air his views in a minority report, will lend weight to those campaigning against the planned reforms.