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A sheriff is in principle a legal official with responsibility for a county. In practice, the specific combination of legal, political, and ceremonial duties of a sheriff varies greatly from country to country.

The word "sheriff" is a contraction of the term "shire reeve". The term, from the Old English scīrgerefa, designated a royal official responsible for keeping the peace (a "reeve") throughout a shire or county on behalf of the king. The term was preserved in England notwithstanding the Norman Conquest. From England the term spread to several other countries, like Scotland, Ireland, and the United States.

The position of sheriff now exists in various countries:
  • Sheriffs are administrative legal officials (similar to bailiffs) in Irelandmarker, Australia, and Canadamarker.
  • Sheriffs are judges in Scotlandmarker.
  • Sheriff is a ceremonial position in Englandmarker, Walesmarker, and Indiamarker.
  • In the United States of Americamarker the role of a sheriff varies between different states and counties. In many rural areas, sheriffs and their deputies are the principal form of police, while in urban areas they may have more specialized duties, such as administering the county jail, prisoner transport, serving warrants, service of process or police administration.

In British English, the political or legal office of a sheriff is called a shrievalty.


See article History of the sheriff

Modern usage


The office of sheriff was first established in Australia in 1824. This was simultaneous with the appointment of the first Chief Justice of New South Walesmarker.The role of the sheriff has not been static, nor is it identical in each Australian State.In the past his duties included: executing court judgements, acting as a coroner, the transportation of prisoners, managing the gaols, and carrying out executions (through the employment of an anonymous hangman).Currently, no Australian State provides for capital punishment. A government department (usually called the Department of Corrections or similar) now runs the prison system and the Coroner’s Office handles coronial matters.The sheriff is now largely responsible for enforcing the civil orders and fines of the court (seizing and selling the property of judgement debtors who do not satisfy the debt), providing court security, enforcing arrest warrants, evictions, taking juveniles into custody and running the jury system.


Various jurisdictions in Canadamarker on provincial and sub-provincial levels operate sheriff's departments primarily concerned with court bailiff services such as courtroom security, post-arrest prisoner transfer, serving legal processes, and executing civil judgments. Sheriffs are defined under Section 2 of the Criminal Code of Canada as "peace officers". In other parts of Canada not covered by a sheriff's agency, bailiff functions are handled directly by the local, provincial police or Royal Canadian Mounted Policemarker as appropriate.


In 2006, the Province of Albertamarker expanded the duties of the provincial sheriffs department to include tasks such as traffic enforcement, VIP protection, investigation and fugitive apprehension(FASST). As of June 2008, the provincial sheriffs department consists of 105 traffic sheriffs who are assigned to one of seven regions in the province. Sheriffs also assist various police services in Alberta with prisoner management. In October 2008, the Alberta Sheriffs will introduce the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Unit (SCAN).


Among cities in Indiamarker, only Mumbaimarker (Bombay), Chennaimarker (Madras) and Kolkatamarker (Calcutta) have a sheriff. The sheriff has an apolitical, non-executive role. Sheriffs preside over various city-related functions and conferences and welcome foreign guests. The post is second to the mayor in the protocol list.

United Kingdom

England and Wales

The High Sheriff is, or was, a law enforcement position in many English-speaking nations. The High Sheriff of an English or Welsh county is an unpaid, partly ceremonial post appointed by The Crown through a Warrant from the Privy Council. In Cornwall the High Sheriff is appointed by the Duke of Cornwall.

Historically, the court officers empowered to enforce High Courtmarker writs were called Sheriffs or Sheriff's Officers. In April 2007 they were replaced by High Court enforcement officers.

City of London

In the City of Londonmarker, the position of sheriff is one of the officers of the Corporation. Two are elected by the liverymen of the City each year to assist the Lord Mayor, attend the Central Criminal Court at the Old Baileymarker, and present petitions to Parliamentmarker: usually one is an alderman and the other is not. The aldermanic sheriff is then likely to become Lord Mayor in due course.


In Scotlandmarker, a sheriff is an analogous to a judge and sits in a second-tier court, called the Sheriff Court. The sheriff is legally qualified, in comparison with a lay Justice of the Peace who preside over the first-tier District Courts of Scotland.

The sheriff court is a court of first instance for the majority of both civil and criminal cases. However, the court's powers are limited, so that major crimes such as rape or murder and complex or high-value civil cases are dealt with in the High Courtmarker (for criminal matters) or the Court of Sessionmarker (for civil matters).

There are six sheriffdoms in Scotland, each with a Sheriff Principal. Within each sheriffdom there are several Sheriff Courts; each court has at least one courtroom and at least one Sheriff (technically a Sheriff Depute). A Sheriff may sit at different courts throughout the sheriffdom. [13506]

Sheriffs are usually advocates and, increasingly, solicitors with many years of legal experience. Until recently, they were appointed by the Scottish Executive, on the advice of the Lord Advocate. However, the Scotland Act 1998 introduced the European Convention of Human Rights into Scots law. A subsequent legal challenge to the impartiality of the sheriffs based on the provisions of the Convention led to the setting up of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, which now makes recommendations to the First Minister, who nominates all judicial appointments in Scotlandmarker other than in the District Court. Nominations are made to the Prime Minister, who in turn makes the recommendation to the Queen.


In Irelandmarker, a sheriff can be either: In both cases sheriffs are charged with enforcing civil judgements against debtors within their bailiwick. Outside Dublin and Cork the County Registrar carries out the functions of the sheriff regarding judgements.The Dublin and Cork sheriffs also perform all the duties of returning officers in elections (other than local elections) and some other duties concerning pounds. Sheriffs may appoint court messengers, subject to approval of the Minister for Justice, to assist them with their work.

United States

Deputy Sheriff in 1940 {Mogollon, New Mexico}
In the United Statesmarker, a sheriff is generally, but not always, the highest law enforcement officer of a county. A sheriff is in most cases elected by the population of the county. In some states the sheriff is officially titled "High Sheriff", although the title is very rarely actually used.

The political election of a person to serve as a police leader is an almost uniquely American tradition. (The practice has been followed in the British Channel Island of Jerseymarker since at least the 16th century.) A sworn law enforcement officer working for a sheriff is called a "sheriff's deputy", "sheriff's officer", or something similar, and is authorized to perform the sheriff's duties. In some states, a sheriff may not be a sworn officer, but merely an elected official in charge of sworn officers. These officers may be subdivided into "general deputies" and "special deputies". In some places, the sheriff has the responsibility to recover any deceased persons within their county, in which case the full title is "sheriff-coroner". In some counties, the sheriff's principal deputy is the warden of the county jail or other local correctional institution.

In some areas of the United States, the sheriff is also responsible for collecting the taxes and may have other titles such as tax collector or county treasurer. Although rare, the sheriff may also be responsible for the county civil defense, emergency disaster service, rescue service, or emergency management.

In the U.S., the relationship between the sheriff and other police departments varies widely from state to state, and indeed in some states from county to county. In the northeastern U.S., the sheriff's duties have been greatly reduced with the advent of state-level law enforcement agencies, especially the state police and local agencies such as the county police. In Vermontmarker, for instance, the elected sheriff is primarily an officer of the County Court, whose duties include running the county jail and serving papers in lawsuits and foreclosures. Law enforcement patrol is performed as well, in support of State Police and in the absence of a municipal police agency in rural towns. Some such towns contract with the sheriff to provide dedicated law enforcement presence in lieu of creating a local police force.

Sheriff offices may coexist with other county level law enforcement agencies such as county police, county park police, county detectives, etc.

The New York City Sheriff is appointed by the mayor and his or her jurisdiction covers all five county-boroughs of New York City (King's County, Queen's County, Richmond County, Bronx County and New York County). The New York Sheriff is responsible to the city's Finance Department.

There are also states in the US that do not have sheriffs, such as Connecticut. In Connecticut, where county government itself has been abolished, the state and local police have sole responsibility for law enforcement.

See also

External Link



  1. Online Etymology Dictionary:sheriff, Online Etymology Dictionary:reeve
  2. Balleine's History of Jersey

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