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 county to county.
- In the United States, a sheriff is a sworn law enforcement officer and the duties of the office vary across states and counties. A sheriff is generally an elected county official, with duties that typically include policing unincorporated areas, maintaining county jails, providing security to courts in the county, and (in some states) serving warrants and court papers. In addition to these policing and correction services, a sheriff is often responsible for enforcing civil law within the jurisdiction.
- A sheriff (or High Sheriff) is a ceremonial county or city official in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland.
- In Scotland, sheriffs are judges.
- In the Republic of Ireland, in some counties and in the cities of Dublin and Cork, sheriffs are legal officials similar to bailiffs.
- In Australia and South Africa sheriffs are legal officials similar to bailiffs. In these countries there is no link maintained between counties and sheriffs.
- In Canada, sheriffs exist in most provinces. The provincial sheriff services generally manage and transport court prisoners, serve court orders, and in some provinces sheriffs provide security for the court system, protect public officials, support investigations by local police services and in Alberta, sheriffs carry out traffic enforcement.
- In India, a sheriff is a largely ceremonial office in some major cites.
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 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 in England and Wales, and a sheriffdom in Scotland.
In New South Wales, the Australian prisons were initially overseen by the provost marshal. The Charter of Justice in 1824 replaced the provost marshal with the sheriff. In addition to detaining accused criminals awaiting trial, the sheriff executed death sentences and other sentences, controlled gaols, and handled prison movements, including the chain gangs that worked on Goat Island and in Sydney. In 1867, the sheriff began to be replaced by an independent Prisons Department, led by an inspector general, which was later renamed comptroller general. Most Australian states adopted this mode of prison oversight for many years.
A sheriff's office exists in the Australian states and (internal) territories, with various duties. For example:
- In Victoria, the sheriff's office is part of the Victoria Department of Justice and Regulation. The office enforces warrants and orders issued by Victoria courts dealing with unpaid fines (in criminal matters) and unpaid money judgments (in civil matters). The Victoria sheriff's office has various enforcement powers against judgment debtors; they may seize and sell a debtor's assets to satisfy a judgment, place a wheel clamp on a debtor's car, or direct VicRoads to suspend a debtor's driver's license or vehicle registration.
- In New South Wales, the Office of the Sheriff is part of Courts and Tribunal Services. The office has more than 400 employees at 58 sheriff's office. In addition to enforcing writs, warrants, and property seizure orders issued by New South Wales courts and tribunals, the Office of the Sheriff also provides court security and administers the state's jury service.
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 of the Alberta Sheriffs Branch to include tasks such as court security and prisoner transport, traffic enforcement, executive protection and some investigation functions (SISU and SCAN). As of June 2008, the Alberta Sheriffs Branch 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.
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.
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.
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:
- Duties of all sheriffs: marital matters (such as general registration of marital status and performing civil marriages), statutory matters, inheritance matters and more.
- Duties of all sheriffs except in Reykjavík: collection of public fees, publication of licences and permits for various personal and business purposes and more.
- Special duties of some sheriffs: in some jurisdictions the sheriff is also the commissioner of police.
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.
Among cities in India, only Mumbai (Bombay), Kolkata (Calcutta) and Chennai (Madras), the three former British Presidencies, 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
Republic of Ireland
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 16 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).
In the United States, the scope of a sheriff varies across states and counties (which in Louisiana are called "parishes"). The sheriff is most often an elected county official, and serves as the law enforcement arm of the county or parish court. The sheriff enforces court orders and mandates, typically serving as the chief civil law enforcement officer of their jurisdiction. These may include such functions as performing evictions, seizing property and assets pursuant to court orders, serving warrants and legal papers. In some counties, a sheriff may be restricted to these civil procedure enforcement duties while in urban areas that have their own police departments, 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 his/her jurisdiction.
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- Online Etymology Dictionary:sheriff, Online Etymology Dictionary:reeve
- Sean O'Toole, The History of Australian Corrections (University of New South Wales Press, 2006) p. 48.
- Sheriffs in Victoria, Victoria Department of Justice and Regulation (accessed August 20, 2016).
- Sheriff enforcement powers, Victoria Department of Justice and Regulation (accessed August 20, 2016).
- Office of the Sheriff of New South Wales, Government of New South Wales (accessed August 20, 2016).
- "Alberta sheriffs make highway debut this weekend". CBC. September 1, 2006. Archived from the original on July 1, 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-03.
- "Verkefni allra sýslumanna" [Tasks of all sheriffs] (in Icelandic). Retrieved 31 January 2012.
- "Verkefni sýslumanna utan Reykjavíkur" [Tasks of sheriffs outside Reykjavík] (in Icelandic). Retrieved 31 January 2012.
- "Sérstök verkefni sýslumanna" [Special tasks of sheriffs] (in Icelandic). Retrieved 31 January 2012.
- "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.
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