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A sheriff is a government official, with varying duties, existing in some countries with historical ties to England, where the office originated. There is an analogous although independently developed office in Iceland that is commonly translated to English as sheriff, and this is discussed below.



Historically, a sheriff was a "legal official with responsibility for a ""shire" or "county. In modern times, 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.[2] The term was preserved in England notwithstanding the "Norman Conquest. From the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the term spread to several other regions, at an early point to Scotland, latterly to Ireland and to the United States.

In "British English, the political or legal office of a sheriff, term of office of a sheriff, or jurisdiction of a sheriff, is called a shrievalty[3] in England and Wales, and a "sheriffdom[4] in Scotland.

The Arabic term "sharif ("noble"), sometimes rendered sherif, bears no historical or etymological connection.

Modern usage[edit]


A sheriff's office exists in most "Australian states and territories, with various duties.


Most provinces and territories in Canada operate a sheriffs service. Sheriffs are primarily concerned with services such as courtroom security, post-arrest prisoner transfer, serving legal processes and executing civil judgements. Sheriffs are defined under section 2 of the "Criminal Code as "peace officers". Sheriff's duties in Ontario deal only with serving legal processes and executing civil judgments. They do not perform court security-related duties. Court security functions are handled by the jurisdictional police (municipal police or the "Ontario Provincial Police) in which the courthouse is located. In other parts of Canada, where sheriff's services do not exist, the "Royal Canadian Mounted Police perform these duties. Quebec has a two-tiered court security system where armed provincial special "constables perform court security and the provincial correctional officers perform prisoner escort/transport duties.


In 2006, the Province of "Alberta expanded the duties[10] of the "Alberta Sheriffs Branch (the successor to the former Courts and Prisoner Security agency) to include traffic enforcement, "protective security and some investigation functions (SISU and SCAN). As of June 2008, the Alberta Sheriffs Branch traffic division includes 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.

British Columbia[edit]

The responsibilities of sheriffs in the Province of British Columbia include providing security for the Provincial Court, Supreme Court, and Court of Appeal; planning high-security trials; providing an intelligence unit; assessing threats towards public officials and those employed in the justice system; protecting judges and Crown prosecutors; managing detention cells; transporting prisoners by ground and air; managing and providing protection for juries; serving court-related documents; executing court orders and warrants; and assisting with the coroner's court.

Nova Scotia[edit]

In the Province of Nova Scotia, the sheriffs service focuses on the safety and security of the judiciary, court staff, the public, and persons in custody. There are local sheriffs for every county in Nova Scotia, numbering over 200 in total. They work with up to 20,000 inmates and travel over 2 million kilometers in a year. Sheriffs are responsible for: court security; the transportation of prisoners to and from institutions and all levels of court; the service of some civil and criminal documents; and the execution of court orders. [11]


In "Iceland, sheriffs (or "magistrates) ("Icelandic: sýslumaður (singular), sýslumenn (plural)) are administrators of the "state, holders of the "executive power in their "jurisdiction and heads of their Sheriff's Office. Sheriffs are in charge of certain legal matters that typically involve registration of some sort and executing the orders of the court. The duties of the sheriffs differ slightly depending on their jurisdiction but they can be broadly categorised as:

There are 24 sheriffs and sheriff jurisdictions in Iceland. The jurisdictions are not defined by the "administrative divisions of Iceland but are mainly a mixture of "counties and "municipalities.

The post of sheriff was mandated by the "Old Covenant, an agreement between the "Icelandic Commonwealth and the "Kingdom of Norway. The agreement which was ratified between 1262 and 1264 makes the post of sheriff the oldest secular position of government still operating in Iceland.[15]


Among cities in "India, only "Mumbai (Bombay), "Kolkata (Calcutta) and "Chennai (Madras), the three former British Presidencies, have had a Sheriff. First established in the 1700s based on the English High Sheriffs, they were the executive arm of the Judiciary, responsible for assembling jurors, bringing people to trial, supervising the gaoling (imprisonment) of prisoners and seizing and selling property. After the mid-1800s the responsibilities and powers of the role were reduced and the positions became ceremonial. The Sheriffs of Mumbai and Kolkata still exist, although the post in "Chennai was abolished in 1998.

In present times the sheriff has an apolitical, non-executive role, presides over various city-related functions and conferences and welcomes foreign guests. The post is second to the mayor in the protocol list.

Republic of Ireland[edit]

Sheriffs have been appointed in Ireland since the "Norman conquest (late 12th century) to enforce court judgements. In the modern day, a sheriff ("Irish: sirriam) is an officer who collects taxes on behalf of the Collector General (part of the "Revenue Commissioners). There are sixteen sheriffs in the country: two in "Dublin, two in "Cork City and twelve for the rest of the country. These twelve sheriffs are also "county registrars. Sheriffs enforce the repayment of a "debt which has been specified by "court order. This can be in the form of payment or, failing that, in the removal and subsequent disposal of assets (a property and/or its contents).[16]


In "Scotland the sheriff is a "judicial office holder in the "sheriff courts, and they are members of the "judiciary of Scotland.[17]

Sheriffs principal[edit]

The most senior sheriffs are the "sheriffs principal, who have administrative as well as judicial authority in the six "sheriffdoms, and are responsible for the effective running and administration of all the sheriff courts in their jurisdiction. Sheriffs principal also sit as appeal sheriffs in the "Sheriff Appeal Court; hearing appeals against "sentencing and "conviction from "summary trials in the sheriff courts and "justice of the peace courts.[18] The additional duties of a sheriff principal include being "Commissioners of the Northern Lighthouse Board (which is the "general lighthouse authority for Scotland), and chairing local criminal justice boards which bring together local representatives of "procurator fiscal, "Police Scotland and "Community Justice Scotland, and "Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.[19][20]


Sheriffs deal with the majority of civil and criminal court cases in Scotland, with the power to preside in "solemn proceedings with a "jury of 15 for "indictable offences and sitting alone in summary proceedings for "summary offences. A sheriff must be "legally qualified, and have been qualified as an "advocate or "solicitor for at least 10 years. The maximum sentencing power of sheriff in summary proceedings is 12 months "imprisonment, or a "fine of up to £10,000. In solemn proceedings the maximum sentence is 5 years imprisonment, or an unlimited fine.[17]

Sheriffs also preside over "fatal accident inquiries which are convened to examine the circumstances around sudden or suspicious deaths, including those who die in the course of employment, in "custody, or in secure accommodation.[21][22]

Summary sheriffs[edit]

Summary sheriffs hear civil cases brought under Simple Procedure and criminal cases brought under summary proceedings. Their sentencing powers are identical to a sheriff sitting in summary proceedings.[23]

South Africa[edit]

In South Africa, the sheriffs are officers of the court and function as the executive arm of the court. They are responsible for serving court processes like summonses and subpoenas. They play an important role in the execution of court orders like the attachments of immovable and movable property; evictions, demolitions etc.

The Sheriffs Act 90 of 1986, which came into operation on 1 March 1990, governs the profession. A sheriff is appointed by the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development in terms of Section 2 of the Act.[24]

United States[edit]

In the United States, the scope of a sheriff varies across "states and "counties (which in "Louisiana are called "parishes" and in "Alaska "boroughs"). The sheriff is most often an elected county official who serves as the chief "civil-law "enforcement officer of their jurisdiction. The sheriff enforces court orders and mandates and may perform duties such as "evictions, seizing property and assets pursuant to court orders, and serving "warrants and "legal papers. In some counties where urban areas have their own police departments, a sheriff may be restricted to "civil procedure enforcement duties, while in other counties, the sheriff may serve as the principal "police force and have jurisdiction over all of the county's "municipalities, regardless if they have their own city or town/township police department. A sheriff often administers the county jails and is responsible for court security functions within their jurisdiction.


  1. ^ "Sheriffs - Judicial Office Holders - About the Judiciary - Judiciary of Scotland". 
  2. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". 
  3. ^ "Definition of SHRIEVALTY". 
  4. ^ "Sheriff Courts and Sheriffdoms in Scotland - Scots Law". Kevin F Crombie. 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c Sean O'Toole, The History of Australian Corrections (University of New South Wales Press, 2006) p. 48.
  6. ^ Office of the Sheriff of New South Wales, "Government of New South Wales (accessed August 20, 2016).
  7. ^ Sheriffs in Victoria, Victoria Department of Justice and Regulation (accessed August 20, 2016).
  8. ^ Sheriff enforcement powers, Victoria Department of Justice and Regulation (accessed August 20, 2016).
  9. ^ General, Department of the Attorney. "Sheriff of Western Australia". 
  10. ^ "Alberta sheriffs make highway debut this weekend". CBC. September 1, 2006. Archived from the original on July 1, 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-03. 
  11. ^ "Sheriff Services - novascotia.ca". 
  12. ^ "Verkefni allra sýslumanna" [Tasks of all sheriffs] (in Icelandic). Retrieved 31 January 2012. 
  13. ^ "Verkefni sýslumanna utan Reykjavíkur" [Tasks of sheriffs outside Reykjavík] (in Icelandic). Retrieved 31 January 2012. 
  14. ^ "Sérstök verkefni sýslumanna" [Special tasks of sheriffs] (in Icelandic). Retrieved 31 January 2012. ["permanent dead link]
  15. ^ "Saga sýslumanna" [History of sheriffs] (in Icelandic). Retrieved 31 January 2012. Sýslumanna er fyrst getið hérlendis í einu handriti að sáttmála þeim sem Íslendingar gerðu við Noregskonung og öðlaðist staðfestingu á árunum 1262 til 1264 og síðar var nefndur Gamli sáttmáli, en með sáttmála þessum má segja að Íslendingar hafi gerst þegnar Noregskonungs. Eru sýslumenn elstu veraldlegu embættismenn sem enn starfa hérlendis og hafa alla tíð verið mikilvægur hluti stjórnsýslunnar. 
  16. ^ Hyland, Paul. "Explainer: Who and what are Ireland's sheriffs?". 
  17. ^ a b "Sheriffs - Judicial Office Holders - About the Judiciary - Judiciary of Scotland". www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk. Judicial Office for Scotland. 2017. Retrieved 3 April 2017. 
  18. ^ Judicial Office for Scotland (March 2016). "The Office of Sheriff Principal". www.judicialappointments.scot. Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland. Retrieved 4 April 2017. 
  19. ^ "Schedule 8 of Merchant Shipping Act 1995". www.legislation.gov.uk. The National Archives. 19 July 1995. Retrieved 2 April 2017. 
  20. ^ "Local Criminal Justice Boards". www.gov.scot. Scottish Government. 3 April 2006. Retrieved 2 April 2017. 
  21. ^ "Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976". Legislation.gov.uk. 13 April 1976. Retrieved 19 February 2017. 
  22. ^ Judicial Office for Scotland. "The Office of Sheriff" (DOC). www.judicialappointments.scot. Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland. p. 9. Retrieved 4 April 2017. 34) The sheriff is required to make certain findings and is empowered to make recommendations to avoid a recurrence of the incident. 
  23. ^ "Summary Sheriffs - Judicial Office Holders - About the Judiciary - Judiciary of Scotland". www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk. Judicial Office for Scotland. 2017. Retrieved 3 April 2017. 
  24. ^ "home". www.sheriffs.org.za. 

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