The Johnny Veeder Fund

Johnny Veeder

Johnny Veeder QC

14 Dec 1948 – 8 Mar 2020

Pimlico Opera was close to Johnny’s heart and this fund will be used for the work in prison and primary schools.

A colleague writes : “It is difficult to find words to commemorate Johnny Veeder. Difficult because he was such an extraordinary person in so many ways. Difficult because everyone with whom he had contact was deeply affected and has their own special recollection. And difficult because his hatred of vanity and his complete selflessness was such that he would have loathed any such tribute.

Johnny is recognised worldwide as one of the most brilliant, visionary and respected counsel, arbitrators, scholars and teachers in the field of international dispute resolution andinternational law. He was, truly, a legend in his lifetime.”


Long ago . . . 

Johnny was a young aspiring criminologist and criminal barrister destined to practise in Liverpool. As things happen, he was diverted to London and practised in the field of international arbitration for almost 50 years. He was also a (part-time) Recorder in the Crown Court for 20 years and Visiting Professor at the Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College.

In the 2019 Grange Park Opera programme book Johnny wrote about prisons:

“Forty years ago, when I was studying criminology, this country’s prison population was 30,000. That was then regarded as an unprecedented crisis. At the height of the economic depression in 1929, the figure had been 10,000.
Today, the figure stands at more than 85,000.

The prison system is broken. Owing to Government sentencing policies over the last 20 years (from all three major parties), the number of men, women and children in custody has more than doubled, at a continuous rate of 5% annually. Such massive, ever-increasing incarceration comes at a huge human and financial cost, to the victims of crime, taxpayers, prisoners’ families, and prisoners themselves.
Prisons breed crime; two thirds of prisoners re-offend within a year of release; prisons are overcrowded and under-resourced; and rehabilitation, educational and mental health facilities are severely limited.
Apart from long term prisoners convicted of violent and sexual crimes, prison is manifestly not fit for purpose. It need not be so.

Whilst this country imprisons 139 people per 100,000 of its population, Sweden imprisons 59, the Netherlands 61, Denmark 63, Germany 76, Ireland 80, Italy 99 and France 104. Of all States in Western Europe, this country has long been the outlier.

For decades, prison reformers have advocated a more efficient and humane system, including effective probation, suspended sentences, community work, home curfews, tagging and other non-custodial punishments. At last, a new wind is blowing. In February 2019, the Ministry of Justice announced a significant change of sentencing policy. Recognising that most prisoners spend less than a year in prison, the Minister (David Gauke) proposed the statutory abolition of prison terms of up to six months in all but exceptional cases.

The Ministry of Justice will doubtless face strong opposition from those who believe that prison is the only punishment and that ever longer prison sentences offer the only solution to crime. These critics have held the tiller for too long. Their approach has failed. It is time for this country to set a new and better course for its prison system.”


Johnny Veeder