The Role 

What is a High Sheriff

The role of a High Sheriff is a blend of tradition and evolution. Except for the Monarchy (which in fact took a break under Oliver Cromwell), the Shrievalty is the oldest secular once in the country and the only secular post surviving from Saxon times, when Ine (688-725) the ruler of a small kingdom based on Winchester, provided in his laws for a “Scir Man” to resolve disputes. As the principal representatives of, and agents for the Crown, the Sheriffs powers included law enforcement, judging cases in the ancient ‘Court of the Hundred’; collection of taxes and levies on behalf of the Crown, and responsibility for Crown property in their Shire. During Norman and Plantagenet times, the Sheriffs role became key to the emerging British justice system, a system more advanced than its European counterparts. The Sheriffs powers grew over time and are evidenced in the 1215 Magna Carta: of the charter’s 63 clauses at least 27 relate to the role of the Sheriff.

A gradual erosion of powers followed over time with the introduction of an exchequer to take on tax collection; a system of itinerant judges, the introduction of a Lord Lieutenant to take on military matters; a Constabulary to take charge of police and prisons; and finally in 1883, the care of Crown Property was transferred to Crown Commissioners. Today, the role is now wholly ceremonial, but carries the status of being the King’s highest judicial officer in the county. An annual appointment, it remains voluntary, unfunded and non-political and involves a mix of ceremonial, charitable and community functions, including: support for His Majesty’s High Court Judges when on Circuit, and attendance at royal visits in the county. These days, however, High Sheriffs play an increasingly active and supportive role within their counties both in relation to the police and emergency services and in lending encouragement to public sector agencies such as the probation and prison services and to voluntary sector organisations involved in crime reduction and social cohesion

The Appointment of the High Sheriff Annual panels in each county identify suitable, experienced and public-spirited individuals who are prepared to take on this highly time demanding, self-funded post. On the 12 November each year, three names from each county are read out by the King’s remembrancer, in the royal courts of Justice before The Lord Chief Justice, a Lord Justice of Appeal, and two High court Judges. In March the roll of High Sheriffs in Nomination is submitted to the King who ‘pricks’ (appoints) the High Sheriffs for the ensuing year. Elizabeth I is believed to have originated the practice that continues to this day of the Sovereign ‘pricking’ a name on the Sheriff’s roll with a bodkin. The reason for pricking through vellum was that the choice was not always a welcome honour. An ink mark could be erased but a hole in the skin (vellum) would be permanent. The Warrants of Appointment are received in the post. The role of High Sheriff is a direct appointment of the Sovereign by royal Warrant and the appointed nominee takes office by making a statutory declaration of fidelity.

Roles & Responsibilities of the High Sheriff The Office of High Sheriff is a single-year Royal appointment. One High Sheriff serves each of the counties of England and Wales every year. The main focus of the role is to support the Crown and the Judiciary. In addition, High Sheriffs actively lend support and encouragement to crime prevention agencies, the emergency services and to the voluntary sector. As the Office is independent and non political, High Sheriffs have a unique opportunity to work for the good of their communities, bringing together a wide range of people within the community they serve. As High Sheriff of the West Midlands, Douglas Wright will recognise those individuals and groups in the County who make a real difference to their communities, enhancing the economic or social life of the region.

The prime responsibilities during the shrieval year are to:

• Uphold and enhance the ancient Office of High Sheriff and to make a meaningful contribution to the High Sheriff’s County during his year in Office;

• Lend active support to the principal organs of the Constitution within his County – the Royal Family, the Judiciary, the Police and other law enforcement agencies, the emergency services, local authorities, and church and faith groups;

• Ensure the welfare of visiting High Court Judges, to attend on them at Court and to offer them hospitality where appropriate;

• Support the Lord Lieutenant on royal visits and on other occasions he may call on him as appropriate;

• Take an active part in supporting and promoting the voluntary sector, giving all possible encouragement to the voluntary organisations within the West Midlands.

The Official Blazon of the Badge “Two swords in saltire Argent hilts pommels and quillons Or that in bend couped at the point charged upon on Oval Azure environed by a Wreath composed of Oak Leaves Gold with in chief and in base a Tudor Rose Gules upon Argent barbed and seeded proper and in the flanks two Leeks in saltire also proper the whole ensigned by the Royal Crown proper.”

The High Sheriff’s Badge The Royal Crown is incorporated in the High Sheriff’s badge by Royal Licence granted in 1991. The ermine border around the base of the Crown symbolises the judiciary. The Shrievalty Association of England and Wales is one of few institutions that are licensed to use the Royal Crown in this way. The swords are in saltire (crossed as an ‘X’ shape) with the blunt sword representing Mercy and the sharp sword representing Justice. The Tudor roses symbolise England and the crossed leeks symbolise Wales. The wreath of gold oak leaves represents the national tree of England. Court Dress of the High Sheriff The court dress remains largely unchanged since the early 19th century when Queen Victoria called for a new design. It consists of a black or dark blue velvet coat with steel-cut buttons, breeches, shoes with cuted steel buckles, a sword and a cocked hat. A lace jabot is worn around the neck. Some High Sheriffs wear their military uniform instead of court dress.