Office of High Sheriff

The Office of High Sheriff is an independent non-political Royal appointment for a single year. The origins of the Office date back to Saxon times, when the ‘Shire Reeve’ was responsible to the king for the maintenance of law and order within the shire, or county, and for the collection and return of taxes due to the Crown. Today, there are 55 High Sheriffs serving the counties of England and Wales each year.


Whilst the duties of the role have evolved over time, supporting the Crown and the judiciary remain central elements of the role today. In addition, High Sheriffs actively lend support and encouragement to crime prevention agencies, the emergency services and to the voluntary sector.

In recent years High Sheriffs in many parts of England and Wales have been particularly active in encouraging crime reduction initiatives, especially amongst young people.

Many High Sheriffs also assist Community Foundations and local charities working with vulnerable and other people both in endorsing and helping to raise the profile of their valuable work.

The High Sheriffs´ Association adopted National Crimebeat in recent years in response to specific areas of need.

High Sheriffs receive no remuneration and no part of the expense of a High Sheriff’s year falls on the public purse.

The current High Sheriff of Worcestershire is Charles Moyle.


The Office of High Sheriff is the oldest secular Office in the United Kingdom after the Crown and dates from Saxon times. The exact date of origin is unknown but the Office has certainly existed for over 1,000 years since the Shires were formed.

The word ‘Sheriff’ derives from ‘Shire Reeve’ or the Anglo Saxon ‘Scir-gerefa’. The King’s Reeve was also known as the ‘High’ Reeve. Some Sheriffs led contingents at the Battle of Hastings. The Normans continued the Office and added to its powers. During the 11th and 12th centuries a High Sheriff’s powers were very extensive. For example, they judged cases in the monthly court of the hundred (a sub-unit of the Shire); they had law enforcement powers and could raise the ‘hue and cry’ in pursuit of felons within their Shire; they could summon and command the ‘posse comitatus’ – the full power of the Shire in the service of the Sovereign; they collected taxes and levies and all dues on Crown lands on behalf of the Crown and were in charge of Crown property in the Shire. In short, High Sheriffs were the principal representatives and agents for the Crown and were thus very powerful within the Shire.

Of the 63 clauses in the Magna Carta of 1215, no less than 27 relate to the role of the Sheriff and from 1254 the High Sheriff supervised the election to Parliament of two Knights of the Shire.

The Sheriffs’ powers were gradually restricted over succeeding centuries. Under Henry I their tax collection powers went to the Exchequer, which also took on the function of auditing the Sheriffs’ accounts. Henry II introduced the system of Itinerant Justices from which evolved the Assizes and the present day system of High Court Judges going out on Circuit. The Sheriff remained responsible for issuing Writs, for having ready the Court, prisoners and juries, and then executing the sentences once they were pronounced. It was also the Sheriff’s responsibility to ensure the safety and comfort of the Judges. This is the origin of the High Sheriff’s modern day duty of care for the well-being of High Court judges.

In the middle of the 13th century, more powers went to the newly created offices of Coroners and Justices of the Peace. Under the Tudors, Lord- Lieutenants were created as personal representatives of the Sovereign. Queen Elizabeth I is generally believed to have originated the practice that continues to this day of the Sovereign choosing the High Sheriff by pricking a name on the Sheriffs’ Roll with a bodkin. It is said that she did this whilst engaged in embroidery in the garden. Sadly, this is a myth since there is a Sheriffs’ Roll dating from the reign of her grandfather Henry VII (1485-1508) on which the names were pricked through vellum.

The real reason for pricking through vellum was that the choice was not always a welcome honour due to the costs the incumbent was likely to have to shoulder and also the challenges faced in assessing and collecting taxes, particularly unpopular taxes such as Charles I’s demands for ship money in 1635. A mark with a pen on vellum could easily be erased with a knife, but a hole in the vellum (which is made from calf skin) could not be removed or repaired invisibly. The potential expense to the incumbent of becoming High Sheriff was one of the reasons the role was for a single year only.

By Acts of 1856 and 1865 all of the Sheriffs’ powers concerning police and prisons passed to the Prison Commissioners and local Constabulary and under an Act of 1883 the care of Crown Property was transferred to the Crown Commissioners.

The Sheriffs Act of 1887 consolidated the law relating to the Office of High Sheriff and the Act remains in force to this day, though it has been amended a number of times. It repeated that the Office should be held for one year only; that a Sheriff who was a Magistrate should not sit as such during the year of Office; and confirmed the historic process of nomination and selection by the Sovereign.

The ceremonial uniform that is worn by male High Sheriffs today is called Court Dress. It has remained essentially unchanged since the late seventeenth century and consists of a black or dark blue velvet coat with cut-steel buttons, breeches, shoes with cut-steel buckles, a sword and a cocked hat. A lace jabot or white bow tie is worn around the neck. Some High Sheriffs wear their military uniform instead of Court Dress. Today, lady High Sheriffs generally adapt the style of traditional men’s Court Dress to suit their needs. Ceremonial uniform is worn at a wide variety of functions but when not wearing Court Dress, a High Sheriff will wear a badge of Office on a ribbon.

Duties & Responsibilities

High Sheriff’s are responsible in the Counties of England and Wales for duties that are given by the Crown through warrant of the Privy Council.

Some of the key roles of the High Sheriff of Worcestershire are:

  • To ensure that Crown and Judiciary systems in the local area are supported
  • To uphold and enhance the Office of High Sheriff and make meaningful contribution
  • To lend support to the principal organs of the Constitution of their county
  • To ensure the welfare of High Court Judges
  • To actively promote and support the community
  • Attendance to local and community events

High Sheriffs are often encouraged to undertake duties to improve and sustain the morale of personnel of voluntary and statutory bodies as well as keeping the Queen’s Peace.

Appointing a High Sheriff



Each year in April, a High Sheriff is appointed for a county. The process to being appointed a High Sheriff begins with three potential High Sheriffs being nominated for each county, these are put forward in a meeting of the Lords of Council in the Queen’s Bench division of the High Court of Justice. Nominations to the Office of High Sheriff are then dealt through the Presiding Judge and the Privy Council for consideration.


The selection is then made annually in a meeting with the Privy Council by the Sovereign when the custom of ‘pricking’ the appointee’s name with a bodkin is perpetuated. 

After the ‘pricking’ process of the High Sheriff, a Warrant of Appointment is send by the Clerk of the Privy Council in the following terms:

‘WHEREAS HER MAJESTY was this day pleased, by and with the advice of HER PRIVY COUNCIL, to nominate you for, and appoint you to be HIGH SHERIFF of the COUNTY OF…during HER MAJESTY’S PLEASURE: These are therefore to require you to take the Custody and Charge of the said COUNTY, and duly to perform the duties of HIGH SHERIFF thereof during HER MAJESTY’S PLEASURE, whereof you are duly to answer according to law.’


The High Sheriff usually takes their 12-month appointment in April of each year with the making of a sworn declaration in terms set out by the Sheriffs Act 1887 before a High Court Judge. In 2020 and 2021 however, many High Sheriff’s had to embrace modern technology to complete their declarations while following the lockdown protocols during the Covid-19 health crisis.

High Sheriff Sword, Dress & Badge

The High Sheriff’s sword symbolises the Queen’s Justice and back in 1869 the Lord Chamberlain’s office issued the guidelines of Court Dress, which is clothes cut from black silk and velvet and trimmed with cut steel buttons. The High Sheriff badge is also different for each county and has a unique symbolism.

Under Sheriffs Office



Nick O’Hara
Thursfields Solicitors
9-10 The Tything, Worcester WR1 1HD.

Tel: 01905 730450


Under the Sheriffs Act 1887, the High Sheriff has a legal duty to appoint an Under Sheriff.  This is an annual appointment and the High Sheriff must by law, within one month of taking office, give to the Queen’s Remembrancer details of the person they have appointed as their Under Sheriff. This is usually done at the time that the new High Sheriff makes the Declaration of Office. Duchy Counties have a different system of appointment of an Under Sheriff and the incumbent will advise.

In many counties, the Under Sheriff (usually a solicitor) will have been in post for a number of years and the Office may well have been held by others in his or her firm over a long period of time.  High Sheriffs in nomination will wish to ensure that the person they appoint will have the skills and experience needed to give the support required.  It is not possible to be prescriptive because each county and each High Sheriff is different and has different needs. It is strongly recommended that before taking Office and at least six or nine months ahead, the High Sheriff in nomination discusses with the current Under Sheriff the degree of support which the High Sheriff in nomination can expect and the charges (if any) which an Under Sheriff may make to the High Sheriff for services rendered. In this way, the High Sheriff can make an informed decision about the appointment of his or her Under Sheriff and both parties can have a clear idea of each other’s role and the obligations of one to the other.

The Under Sheriff has a vital role in ensuring continuity. He or she can give valuable advice to new High Sheriffs and can sometimes provide secretarial help. They are familiar with the protocols of the Court and have considerable experience of ceremonial matters. Most Under Sheriffs are members of the High Sheriffs’ Association.