The Office of High Sheriff
The Office of High Sheriff is at least 1,000 years old having its roots in Saxon times before the Norman Conquest. It is the oldest continuous secular Office under the Crown.
Originally the Office held many of the powers now vested in Lord Lieutenants, High Court Judges, Magistrates, Local Authorities, Coroners and even the Inland Revenue.
The Office of High Sheriff remained first in precedence in the Counties until the reign of Edward VII when an Order in Council in 1908 gave the Lord Lieutenant the prime Office under the Crown as the Sovereign's personal representative. Lord Lieutenants were created in 1547 for military duties in the Shires. The High Sheriff remains the Sovereign's representative in the County for all matters relating to the Judiciary and the maintenance of law and order.
Modern precendence is defined by a Royal Warrant of 1904, as amplified by the Home Office Memorandum of 1928 whereby the High Sheriff takes precedence in the County immediately after the Lord Lieutenant except when precedence is deferred to the Lord Mayor, Mayor or Chairman of the Local Authority when they are undertaking municipal business in their own district.
Functions of the Office
High Sheriffs are responsible in the Counties of England and Wales for duties conferred by the Crown through Warrant from the Privy Council including: Attendance at Royal visits to the County; the well being and protection of Her Majesty's High Court Judges when on Circuit in the County and attending them in Court during the legal terms; the annual appointment of an Under Sheriff; acting as the Returning Officer for Parliamentary Elections in County constituencies; responsibility for the proclamation of the accession of a new Sovereign; and maintenance of the loyalty of subject to the Crown. In practice some of those responsibilities are delegated to the professional services, for example the protection of the judges and the maintenance of law and order are in the hands of the Chief Constable of Police.
High Sheriffs are encouraged by The High Sheriffs' Association of England and Wales to undertake duties to improve and sustain the morale of personnel of voluntary and statutory bodies, particularly those engaged in the maintenance and extension of law and order and the entire criminal system. It is an independent non-political Office which enables the holder to bring together a wide variety of individuals and Office holders for the good of the community a High Sheriff serves. The High Sheriff receives no remuneration and no part of the expense of his year of Office falls on the public purse. In recent years High Sheriffs in many parts of England and Wales have been particularly active in the field of reduction of crime and the development of an anti-crime culture, particularly among young people, through its two Charities, DebtCred and National Crimebeat, and other similar initiatives.
The Sheriff has always been associated with keeping the Queen's Peace. For that reason, visits to all the various courts and agencies associated with the maintenance of Law and Order are very much part of the role together with an interest in the work of Magistrates, Coroners, juvenile and family courts, various forms of tribunal, the Police, Fire and Ambulance services and voluntary organisations.
Nominations for High Sheriff
Nominations to the Office of High Sheriff are dealt with through the presiding Judge of the appropriate Circuit and the Privy Council or consideration by the Sovereign in Council. The annual nominations of three prospective High Sheriffs for each County are made in a meeting of the Lords of the Council in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice presided over by the Lord Chief Justice on the 12th November in each year. Subsequently the selection of New High Sheriffs is made annually in a meeting with the Privy Council by the Sovereign when the custom of 'pricking' the appointee's name with a bodkin is perpetuated.