The British Sociological Association has expressed its regret at the death of Garry Runciman, 3rd Viscount Doxford. He died on 10 December 2020, aged 86.
As well as a prolific sociological researcher and writer, Professor Runciman chaired a commission on criminal justice, which resulted in the establishment of the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Professor Runciman was educated at Eton College, Trinity College, Cambridge and Harvard. He inherited the viscountcy on the death of his father in 1989, and sat in the House of Lords until he lost his seat in the reforms of 1999.
He joined the faculty of Trinity College, Cambridge in the 1950s as a historical sociologist. His books include Relative Deprivation and Social Justice: a Study of Attitudes to Social Inequality in Twentieth-Century Britain (1966), based on a national survey of the British adult population, A Critique of Max Weber’s Philosophy of Social Science (1972) A Treatise on Social Theory (three volumes, 1983 to 1997), and The Social Animal (1998).
During the late 1960s he was a part-time reader in sociology at the University of Sussex, and in 1971 he returned to Trinity as a senior research fellow. He held honorary degrees from King’s College, London and the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, and York. He was elected to the British Academy in 1975 and served as its President from 2001 to 2005.
In 1963 he began a career in business, eventually succeeding his father as Chairman of Walter Runciman PLC, the shipping firm founded by his great grandfather. He was invited by the Governor of the Bank of England to serve on the Securities and Investment Board (later to become the Financial Services Authority), from which he retired in 1998, having been its Deputy Chairman.
He chaired the British Government’s Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, established in 1991. This followed several serious miscarriages of justice, including the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, whose bombing convictions from the 1970s were quashed as unsafe by the Court of Appeal. As a result, the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 established the Criminal Cases Review Commission. He was also Treasurer of the Child Poverty Action Group and a member of the board of the British Library.
He gave plenary addresses at three BSA annual conferences, at the universities of Warwick in 2008, on ‘Natural, cultural, social: a three-way interaction’; at Leicester in 2002, on ‘Promoting sociology: how can we raise the profile?; and in 1993 at Essex, on ‘The sociological imagination in the 1900’. For the 2002 event, he said that sociologists should be “asserting and demonstrating that what we do is not merely distinctive from other social-scientific disciplines but is done to the same publicly recognized standards of scientific and scholarly excellence.”
Professor Runciman is survived by his wife Ruth and their three children. His son David Runciman is a political scientist at the University of Cambridge.