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

The word "sheriff" is a contraction of the term "shire reeve". The term, from the Old English scÄĞrgerefa, designated a royal official responsible for keeping the peace (a "reeve") throughout a shire or county on behalf of the king.[1] The term was preserved in England notwithstanding the Norman Conquest. From the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms the term spread to several other countries, at an early point to Scotland, latterly to Ireland and the United States.

The position of sheriff now exists in various countries:

  • Sheriffs are administrative legal officials (similar to bailiffs) in Ireland, Australia, and Canada.
  • Sheriffs are judges in Scotland.
  • Sheriff is a ceremonial position in England, Wales, and India.
  • In the United States of America the role of a sheriff varies between different states and counties. The sheriff is a county official, the arm of the county court. In urban areas they may be restricted to these court duties, such as administering the county jail, courtroom security, prisoner transport, serving warrants, service of process or police administration. Sheriffs may also patrol outside of city/town limits or jurisdiction. In many rural areas, sheriffs and their deputies are the principal form of police.

In British English, the political or legal office of a sheriff is called a shrievalty.


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