History of the Sheriffs (High Court Enforcement Officers)

The current High Court Enforcement Officers role can be traced back to the Sheriffs first appointed in the Saxon era. Sheriffs were appointed by the King to cover each area or district of the Kingdom and the Sheriffs area was known as a Shire. Much like today, we have Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Wiltshire.

A sheriff was responsible for the administration of all the law in that district, raising the King’s army and collecting the Kings taxes.  The sheriffs were even responsible for completing executions when England had the death penalty.

Sheriffs were governed by various pieces of legislation over the years including The Sheriffs Acts of 1837 & 1887.

The sheriffs were very powerful people that dealt with all forms of law and order including criminal offences and punishments. The monarchy worried about their growing power so their powers were curbed by various methods, one of these methods was to limit their appointment to 1 year. Anyone only doing the job for 1 year would have great difficulty learning all the laws and gaining the necessary experience to do the job properly.

The post of under-sheriff was created which was a semi-permanent post and usually held by a solicitor. His under-sheriff was the person who knew the role, the law, had experience and therefore gave all the advice to the sheriffs. The people who enforced the orders and judgments were the sheriff’s officers and their bailiffs who were appointed by the sheriff.

The posts of under-sheriff and sheriffs’ officer for each shire became a more hereditary right that was handed down from father to son etc. As each sheriff was appointed his or her first act was to appoint the same under-sheriff (firm of solicitors) and the same sheriff’s officers (firm of bailiffs).

They were the only ones by law that could enforce these writs in the shires known to the sheriff’s officers as their bailiwicks and therefore they had the monopoly.

In 2003 the government decided the posts of under-sheriff and sheriff’s officer would be reformed and the shires/bailiwicks would be open to competition.

The Courts Act 2003 gave rise to the new system we use today which created the post of High Court Enforcement Officer, removed the under sheriff’s and the role of the sheriff became only ceremonial.