The History of the Office of High Sheriff
There have been High Sheriffs for at least 1000 years. The original "Shire Reeves" were Royal officials appointed to enforce the King's interests in a County, in particular the collection of revenues and the enforcement of law and order.
High Sheriffs had extensive powers. They judge cases in monthly courts and acted as law enforcement officers. They could raise the 'hue and cry' after criminals in the County and could summon and command the 'posse comitatus' the full military force of the County. Sheriffs are mentioned throughout the Magna Carta and were clearly fundamental to the running of the Shires. By 1254 the High Sheriff supervised the election to Parliament of two Knights of the Shire.
From about 1300 their powers began to wane as more and more functions were centralised. The exchequer was established to administer tax collection and to audit Sheriff's accounts. A system of itinerant Justices and Assizes was set up. Sheriffs, however, maintained responsibility for issuing Writs, having ready the Court, prisoners and juries and executing sentences once they were pronounced. It was also the Sheriff's responsibility to ensure the safety and comfort of the Judges. This is the origin of the High Sheriff's modern day duty of care for the well-being of High Court judges. Further changes came with the creation of Coroners and Justices of the Peace and the establishment of Lord-Lieutenants as the personal representatives of the Sovereign.
Tradition says that Queen Elizabeth I originated the practice of appointing High Sheriffs by pricking their names when the Roll was brought to her while she was engaged in embroidery. Sadly, this is a myth since there is a Sheriffs' Roll from the reign of her grandfather where the names are pricked through vellum. This is in fact an early form of document security. Sheriffs had to collect unpopular taxes and could be personally liable for any shortfall. There was therefore an incentive to try and avoid appointment. No matter how high the bribe, however, no official could disguise a hole pierced through the vellum against the appointee's name. The practice of the Monarch pricking the names of High Sheriffs survives to this day.
In the 19th century Sheriffs' responsibilities for police, prisons and Crown property were transferred to statutory bodies. Their surviving powers were codified in The Sheriffs Act of 1887. This Act, with subsequent amendments, remains in force to this day. Among other things it confirms the historic process of nomination by the Sovereign.
The Current Role of High Sheriffs
The Office of High Sheriff is an independent non-political Royal appointment for a single year. Today, there are 55 High Sheriffs serving the Counties of England and Wales.
Their duties include attendance at royal visits in the County and support for Her Majesty's High Court Judges when on Circuit. Supporting the Crown and the judiciary remains a central element of the role. They give active support and encouragement to the police and to the emergency services, to the probation and prison services and to other agencies involved with crime prevention, particularly amongst young people.
High Sheriffs play an increasingly active role in promoting the voluntary sector within their communities. Many High Sheriffs give their own personal Awards to individuals, often unsung heroes within small voluntary groups who have made an outstanding contribution in some way. As the Office of High Sheriff is independent and non-political, they are therefore very well placed to bring together a wide range of people within the community they serve.
High Sheriffs receive no remuneration and no part of the expenses incurred by the High Sheriffs falls on the public purse. Their role can be summarised as follows:-
to uphold and enhance the ancient Office of High Sheriff and to make a meaningful contribution to the High Sheriff's County during the year of Office
to lend an active support to the principal organs of the Constitution within their County - the Royal Family, the Judiciary, the Police and other law-enforcement agencies, the emergency services. local authorities and all recognised church and faith groups
to assure the welfare of visiting High Court Judges; to attend on them at Court and to offer them hospitality
to support the Lord-Lieutenant on royal visits and on other occasions as appropriate take an active part in supporting and promoting the voluntary sector and giving all possible encouragement to the voluntary organisations within a County.
The Staffordshire High Sheriff for 2012/2013 is:-
Mrs Sarah Elsom DL
Tel: 01785 211411 (via Secretary to the Under Sheriff)
Under Sheriff is:-
Mr Paul Slater
Secretary to the Under Sheriff - Miss Pat Chilton
Hand Morgan and Owen
17 Martin Street
Tel: 01785 211411
For more information visit: