Should High Sheriffs wear swords in places of worship?

As with so many matters of shrieval dress it is always advisable to ask the host/organiser what is expected.  They may not have a view and if it is a public occasion of some formality the High Sheriff should usually dress up (which includes, if a man in court dress or uniform or a lady in a military uniform, wearing a sword).  In churches, however, custom and practicality usually determine whether or not swords should be worn.  Some do not favour ‘weapons’ being taken inside the building (unless as part of a military parade) while others expect swords to be removed on entry and handed to a church official or placed on the ornamental sword stand with which some churches are furnished.  In any case they can be inconvenient when mounting a pulpit or lectern, or kneeling.  If in doubt always ask.

Why are High Sheriffs Returning Officers in Parliamentary elections?

The Representation of the People Act 1983, section 24(1)(a) states that the High Sheriff is the Returning Officer ‘in the case of a county constituency which is coterminous with or wholly contained in a county’. The High Sheriff may therefore declare the results of the poll in any such constituency within his or her county and delegates authority to Acting Returning Officers to declare the results in other county constituencies. In a borough constituency contained in a district, the mayor or chairman of the local authority is the Returning Officer.

Can High Sheriffs invite politicians to functions during a pre-election period?

Given the sensitivity of the non-political nature of a High Sheriff’s appointment, where politicians have ceased to be Members of Parliament or of the Welsh Assembly after an election has been called but before re-election, they do not qualify for official invitations. The same applies to local government candidates. High Sheriffs are advised not to invite candidates in a personal capacity even if they are close family.

Can High Sheriffs’ Chaplains be of any seniority in their religious denominations?

Yes they can. It is probably best for both parties that the High Sheriff appoints a person he or she knows well – the local incumbent or licensed lay minister, or a close relation or friend. Geographical convenience should be a consideration. Chaplains can be of any denomination or faith appropriate to the High Sheriff.

Are we Sheriffs or High Sheriffs? I often see historical references to sheriffs, eg in Magna Carta and well into the 20th century.

The adjective ‘high’ has been used for centuries in relation to the sheriffs of counties, to distinguish them from City sheriffs and to indicate that they are the Sovereign’s sheriffs. Curiously it was only under the Local Government Act 1972 that the term High Sheriff was given the royal seal of approval. Section 219 (1) decreed that ‘Sheriffs appointed for a county or Greater London shall be known as high sheriffs, and any reference in any enactment or instrument to a sheriff shall be construed accordingly in relation to sheriffs for a county or Greater
London’. The Act took effect at midnight on 1 April 1974 so the superstitious need not worry that its provisions were an illusion. Colloquially the word ‘sheriff’ is often used of high sheriffs.

How should my chaplain wear the High Sheriff’s badge on ecclesiastical dress?

Customarily High Sheriffs’ chaplains wear the badge only on the black tippet or preaching scarf. The Association suggests that they should be worn in pairs, one at each end of the scarf. This manner of displaying emblems and badges follows the dress regulations of Chaplains to the Armed Forces and is the established pattern followed by the clergy of cathedrals and Royal Peculiars. If only one High Sheriff’s badge is worn it should be placed centrally on the left side of the scarf at chest level (below decorations or medal ribbons if worn)

What is the procedure when a High Sheriff dies or is obliged to stand down in office?

Section 25 (1) of the Sheriffs Act 1887 is still extant and reads as follows:

Execution of office by under-sheriff on death or suspension of sheriff.

(1) Where the sheriff of a county dies before the expiration of his year of office or before he is lawfully superseded, the under-sheriff by him appointed shall nevertheless continue in office and shall until another sheriff be appointed for the said county and has made the declaration of office, execute the office of sheriff, in the name of the deceased sheriff, and be answerable for the execution of the said office as the deceased sheriff would by law have been if living; and the security given to the sheriff so deceased by the said under-sheriff and his pledges shall remain and be a security to the Crown and to all persons whomsoever for such under-sheriff’s due execution of the offices of sheriff and under-sheriff.’

(2) When it becomes the duty of an under-sheriff to act as sheriff under the provisions of this section he may by writing under his hand appoint a deputy.

If there is a substantial length of time still to run before the next High Sheriff takes office, it is likely that the immediate past High Sheriff would be asked by the Under Sheriff to assist with some ceremonial duties as deputy. In exceptional circumstances The Queen’s Remembrancer and the Privy Council may approach The Sovereign to request that one of those in nomination for the county be appointed to complete the year.

I note from the Association’s guidance on court dress in the members’ area that High Sheriffs’ badges should not be worn with court dress. I like wearing mine and it interests people I meet. Why can’t I wear it?

Badges, whether a county’s own or the High Sheriffs’ Association’s badge, were introduced for High Sheriffs to wear in less formal dress when it was felt helpful to be able to identify the wearer, especially on civic and other occasions when badges were worn. A High Sheriff’s badge is customarily worn when handed over at a Declaration ceremony, although in recent years High Sheriffs have worn them increasingly on other occasions. There is nothing wrong with this, but the Association feels that court dress sufficiently identifies the wearer without ‘gilding the lily’.

How should lady High Sheriffs wear a shrieval badge at the same time as any orders, decorations and medals ( 'decorations')?

Since lady High Sheriffs, as royal appointees, are ‘no 2′ in their counties after Lord-Lieutenants, and in their shrieval capacity therefore precede all other recipients of decorations, their High Sheriffs’ badges should be worn suspended from their bows or other fittings on the left side above any decorations they may possess. This recommendation is endorsed by the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood.

Should High Sheriffs return the salute when taking the salute at a military or civilian parade?

Saluting is confined to people wearing uniform – military (armed forces) or civilian (St John etc) – where this action forms the usual manner of greeting or acknowledging a person, object (eg military colours) or action (eg Last Post). It would be wrong to salute when wearing civilian non-uniform clothing (including court dress).
Civilians taking the salute should stand to attention when being saluted, when colours are marched past and during the Last Post. It is appropriate to acknowledge an individual person saluting with a court bow (just from the neck, men and women – no curtseying except to a member of the Royal Family).
Male High Sheriffs in court dress or civilian clothes should remove their hats instead of saluting. Ladies need not do so.

I am thinking of ways of adapting the Association’s badge to use when, God willing, I am sworn in as High Sheriff. Are there any restrictions to what I may do?

The Badge of the Association, the crossed swords of justice (pointed) and mercy (blunt), ensigned by the Royal Crown and within a wreath of oak leaves, Tudor roses and leeks, was granted by the Kings of Arms in 1992 for use by the Association and its members. The privilege of using the Royal Crown is one rarely granted to organisations, and was made by Royal Licence of Her Majesty The Queen on the advice of the Home Secretary. It would be entirely wrong to adapt this Badge in any way. If members are unsure of how it should be displayed they should contact the Honorary Secretary. The Badge should only be used, exactly as granted, to identify High Sheriffs and not by their families, firms or other bodies with which they are associated.

Can I nominate as a potential High Sheriff a hereditary peer who has not been elected by his peers to the House of Lords?

Privy Council guidance on this is clear. He is not a member of the House of Lords, so his peerage is no obstacle.

Can a Commonwealth or foreign national be appointed as a High Sheriff?

Yes.  There is no statutory requirement that the High Sheriff must be a UK National.  The main  provision is that the nominee should own property in and have a strong connection with the county concerned.

The High Sheriff advised in an earlier issue that High Sheriffs should stand to attention when singing the National Anthem. More than the first verse is often sung so this is not always possible.

The second (‘legal’) verse is sung more often than not at services involving High Sheriffs. The answer is to learn this, which avoids fluttering service sheets and fumbling for spectacles, and it would be prudent for shrieval spouses to follow suit.

Can any Judge hear the Declaration of a new High Sheriff on taking office?

Declarations may only be made before an active Judge of Her Majesty’s High Court or an active Justice of the Peace (Sheriffs Act 1887, section 7, amended by the Courts Act 2003, schedule 8, paragraph 58). No other Judges (eg Circuit or District Judges) may hear Declarations. High Sheriffs in nomination are informed of this by the Association before taking office.

What is the protocol for court mourning - how long does it last and do all parties have to be cancelled?

Mourning observances have relaxed in recent years. The Lord Chamberlain issues instructions to members of the Royal Household, as do the Armed Forces to their members, while Government Departments give appropriate guidance. High Sheriffs are not bound by any regulations, but should note such guidance and conduct themselves with due decorum. If a party is inappropriate, it should be cancelled.

Can female High Sheriffs bear swords ceremonially, and, if so, what is appropriate?

Regulation civil and service swords are specified for carrying by men by the Lord Chamberlain and the appropriate Armed Services. There is no regulation sword for female High Sheriffs in shrieval court dress, but swords are emblematic of the Office of High Sheriff, and feature in the Association’s armorial bearings. Cut steel court swords, as worn by men in court dress, being light and small, are probably the most elegant and appropriate for ladies. Any military or civil swords, only if they have a close personal connection with the High Sheriff, would not be inappropriate. Being only symbolic and not worn, swords can be borne in front of female High Sheriffs in ceremonial processions. The appearance and dress of the bearer should be considered – decorum rules (eg not a jersey).  Female High Sheriffs who have served in the armed forces are entitled to wear their former uniform with the appropriate regulation sword (subject to the requirements laid down by the MoD, reproduced in the Resource Library (Dress of High Sheriffs) section of the members’ area of this website.

Should a Parish Councillor stand down from membership of the Parish Council leading up to and during his or her year of office as High Sheriff?

The Privy Council has advised that although a Parish Council tends not to operate on party political lines, actions of a Parish Councillor might involve  controversial matters and those that might be seen as ‘partisan’. In addition a High Sheriff might lay him/herself open to accusations of using his/her office to exert influence and thereby bring the office into disrepute. Therefore on balance the Privy Council considers that there is an expectation that nominees who are Parish Councillors should stand down in line with the usual advice to nominees involved in politics to stand down to prevent any political activity detracting from their role as representing the county as a whole.

Ask a Question

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.