High SheriffsSusannah Walbank
A High Sheriff is a ceremonial officer appointed to each county of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Office of High Sheriff is a non-political Royal appointment lasting for a single year. The role dates back to Saxon times, when the ‘Shire Reeve’ was responsible for the maintenance of law and order within the county. High Sheriffs are the oldest secular Office in the UK after the Crown.
Today there are 55 High Sheriffs serving the counties in England and Wales. Supporting the Crown is still one of their central roles, but they also lend support to crime prevention agencies, emergency services and the voluntary sector.
Each year three nominations are made in a meeting of the Lords of the Council in the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice. Every March the meeting of the Privy Council takes place where the Sovereign selects the High Sheriffs. This is known as the ancient custom of ‘pricking’.
Male High Sheriffs wear a ceremonial uniform called Court Dress. It is the same uniform worn since the late seventeenth century. The black or dark blue velvet coat is worn with a cocked hat, sword and shoes with cut steel buckles. Some High Sheriffs wear their military uniform instead of Court Dress. Ladies wear a style of uniform adapted from the traditional men’s Court Dress to suit their needs. When not in uniform A High Sheriff wears a badge of Office on a ribbon.