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The High Sheriff of West Sussex: history and role

Like that of the Lord-Lieutenant, the position of High Sheriff is an ancient one, and these days entirely unremunerated. In the case of a High Sheriff, however, the period of office is one year.

The office of High Sheriff of West Sussex

The Office of High Sheriff is at least 1,000 years old having its roots in Saxon times before the Norman Conquest. The Shrievalty, as the office is known, is the oldest secular office under the Crown. Originally the office held many of the powers now vested in the Lord-Lieutenant, High Court judges, magistrates, local authorities, coroners and HM Revenue and Customs.

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. The High Sheriff is appointed by the Sovereign and has a prime role of supporting the judiciary and those responsible for the maintenance of law and order but does not officially represent the Sovereign in such matters.

Modern precedence is defined by a Royal Warrant of 1904, as amplified by a Home Office Memorandum of 1928 whereby the High Sheriff takes precedence in the County immediately after the Lord-Lieutenant.

Functions of the office of High Sheriff

High Sheriffs are responsible in the counties of England and Wales for duties conferred by the Crown through Warrant from the Privy Council, including:

  • 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 support the Lord-Lieutenant on royal visits and on other occasions as appropriate;
  • The wellbeing and protection of Her Majesty’s High Court judges when on circuit in the county and attending them in court during the legal terms;
  • To lend 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 church and faith groups;
  • To take an active part in supporting and promoting the voluntary sector and giving all possible encouragement to the voluntary organisations within the county;
  • Acting as the Returning Officer for Parliamentary Elections in county constituencies; and
  • Responsibility for the proclamation of the accession of a new Sovereign.

In practice some of these 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 Sussex Police.

How nominations for High Sheriff are made

Nominations to the office of High Sheriff are dealt with through the Presiding Judge of the Circuit and the Privy Council for consideration by the Sovereign in Council. The annual nominations of three prospective High Sheriffs 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 in mid November each year. Subsequently the selection of new High Sheriffs is made annually in a meeting of the Privy Council by the Sovereign when the custom of ‘pricking’ the appointee’s name with a bodkin is perpetuated. Eligibility for nomination and appointment of High Sheriff under the Sheriff’s Act of 1887 excludes Peers of Parliament, Members of the House of Commons, Commissioners or officers of Customs and Excise or Inland Revenue, officers of the Royal Navy, Army or Royal Air Force on full pay, clergymen whether beneficed or not and barristers and solicitors in actual practice.