The Office of High Sheriff is an independent non-political Royal appointment for a single year. The duties associated with the role have evolved over time. However the focus of the appointment remains to support the Crown and the judiciary. In modern times, this often involves playing an active role in community safety and promoting the interests of the criminal justice agencies and voluntary organisations which are working together to prevent crime and reduce demand for blue light services. Many are also committed to increasing the profile of the work of local crime reduction initiatives, particularly those that offer diversionary activities and skills training to young people and other vulnerable people. Many High Sheriffs also assist Community Foundations and local charities by endorsing and helping to raise the profile of their valuable work.
By nature of their Royal appointment, High Sheriffs are well-placed to honour and recognise the achievements of members of the community who go above and beyond the call of duty to protect their communities, the wider public and maintain the reputation of their county. A number of High Sheriffs have established their own personal awards system which they present to the unsung heroes within small charity or voluntary groups who have delivered outstanding service to their cause. On occasions, High Sheriffs will also present one-off awards to those who, in the opinion of a Judge during a criminal trial, have actively apprehended an offender in the interests of public safety.
Although representatives of the Crown, High Sheriffs are encouraged to organise their duties and day-to-day activities according to their particular skills, experience and own areas of interest including their designated charities. The key responsibilities of the appointment are as follows:
- To uphold and enhance the ancient Office of High Sheriff and to make a meaningful contribution to the High Sheriff’s County throughout the year of Office.
- To lend active support to the Constitution within the county – the Royal Family, the Judiciary, the Police, and other law enforcement agencies, the emergency services, local authorities, the Church and faith groups.
- To assist and support visiting High Court Judges to the county, offering hospitality and attending to them at Court.
- To support the Lord-Lieutenant during Royal visits and on other appropriate ceremonial occasions.
- To act as Returning Officer for parliamentary elections.
- To proclaim the accession of a new Sovereign and maintain the loyalty of subjects to the Crown.
- To appoint an Under Sheriff and carry out various ceremonial functions.
- To nominate a future High Sheriff.
- To actively promote the work of the voluntary sector within the county, raising awareness of the initiatives underway for the benefit of the wider community.
The origin of High Sheriffs dates back to Saxon times, when the ‘Shire Reeve’ was accountable to the King for the maintenance of law and order within the shire, or county, and for the collection and return of taxes due to the Crown.
Currently, there are 55 High Sheriffs serving across the counties of England and Wales. The High Sheriff is a voluntary role and those appointed to the position meet all the costs of their office each year without any expenses falling on the public purse.
At the start of their term of office, the High Sheriff has a legal duty to appoint an Under Sheriff, usually a local solicitor, to assist at ceremonial occasions and undertake other legal matters such as those relating to parliamentary elections. Usually, an Under Sheriff will have held the post for a number of years for the purpose of continuity.
Chaplain to the High Sheriff
In addition to the appointment of an Under Sheriff, the Office requires a Chaplain to be installed for support, advice and assistance at shrieval church services and other important occasions such as the formal opening of a new legal term. High Sheriffs traditionally appoint their own Chaplain for the voluntary role.
High Sheriff’s Cadet
The High Sheriff will also appoint a Cadet (sometimes more than one) to assist them during the year. These may be chosen from the police cadets, army cadets or RAF air cadets.
High Sheriff Blessing
Let us pray.
God our Father,
we pray and beseech you
to bless the Queen’s most excellent Majesty,
our Sovereign Lady Elizabeth,
of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
and of the Dominions and Territories of the British Commonwealth Queen, Defender of the Faith;
and on this occasion most especially
the High Sheriff of this County of Staffordshire,
that she may serve truly and diligently to your glory
and the edifying and well-governing of your people
remembering always the account she must one day give
before the throne of the heavenly grace;
this we ask in the name of our Risen Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.