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Not to be confused with sherif or sharif. For other uses, see Sheriff (disambiguation).

In principle, a sheriff is a legal official with responsibility for a "shire", i.e. county. In practice, the specific combination of legal, political and ceremonial duties of a sheriff varies greatly from country to country.

  • In the United States of America, a sheriff is a sworn law enforcement officer and the duties of his/her office vary across states and counties. A sheriff is generally an elected county official, with duties that typically include policing rural areas, maintaining county jails, 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 his/her jurisdiction.
  • A sheriff (or High sheriff) is a ceremonial county or city official in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and India.
  • In Scotland, sheriffs are judges.[1]
  • In the Republic of Ireland, sheriffs are legal officials similar to bailiffs in some counties and in the cities of Dublin and Cork.
  • 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 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.[2]


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.[3] 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.

Modern usage[edit]


The office of sheriff was first established in Australia in 1824. This was simultaneous with the appointment of the first Chief Justice of New South Wales. The role of the sheriff has not been static, nor[clarification needed] is it executing court judgements, acting as a coroner, transporting prisoners, managing the gaols and formally carrying out executions (through an anonymous hangman).[citation needed]

Australia no longer applies capital punishment. A state government department (usually called the Department of Corrections or similar) now runs the state prison system.[citation needed]

The sheriff is now largely responsible for enforcing the civil orders and fines of the court (seizing and selling the property of judgement debtors who do not satisfy the debt), providing court security, enforcing arrest warrants, evictions, and running the jury system. Some State Sheriffs can also apply sanctions ranging from suspending driving licences and car registration to wheel clamping and arranging community service orders and as a last resort make arrests.[citation needed]


Some provinces in Canada operate sheriffs services. They 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". In parts of Canada not covered by a sheriffs service, bailiff functions are handled directly by the provincial police or by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as appropriate.


In 2006, the Province of Alberta expanded the duties[4] of the provincial sheriffs service 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 provincial sheriffs service 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.

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. [5]


Main article: Sýslumaður

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 except in Reykjavík: collection of public fees, publication of licences and permits for various personal and business purposes and more.[7]

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.[9]


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[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 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).[10]

United States of America[edit]

In the United States of America, 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 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 police department. A sheriff often administers the county jails and is in responsible for court security functions within his/her jurisdiction.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary:sheriff, Online Etymology Dictionary:reeve
  4. ^ "Alberta sheriffs make highway debut this weekend". CBC. September 1, 2006. Retrieved 2008-06-03. [dead link]
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Verkefni allra sýslumanna" [Tasks of all sheriffs] (in Icelandic). Retrieved 31 January 2012. 
  7. ^ "Verkefni sýslumanna utan Reykjavíkur" [Tasks of sheriffs outside Reykjavík] (in Icelandic). Retrieved 31 January 2012. 
  8. ^ "Sérstök verkefni sýslumanna" [Special tasks of sheriffs] (in Icelandic). Retrieved 31 January 2012. 
  9. ^ "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. 
  10. ^ [1]