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.
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:
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:
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.
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" and in Alaska "boroughs"). The sheriff is most often an elected county official who serves as the law enforcement organ 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. The sheriff's duties may include such functions as performing evictions, seizing property and assets pursuant to court orders, and serving warrants & legal papers. In some counties where urban areas have their own police departments, a sheriff may be restricted to such 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 his/her jurisdiction.
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.