The Sheriff of Calcutta

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(Definition & Genesis)

The Sheriff is the Chief of a Shire. He may be hereditary or appointed by the Crown or State Government. His powers functions & jurisdictions are varied from time to time & from country to country.

[l) Definition’s & Genesis of Sheriff: Sheriff is the chief bailiff or officer of the shire. (Shire derived from the Saxon scyran, to divide, is a portion of land called a country) [Mozley and Whiteley’s Law Diet] A country officer representing the executive or administrative power of the state within his country, the chief officer, under the King, in every shire or country, being so called from the first division of the kingdom into countries (Tomlins Law Diet). It seems that anciently the government of the country was by the king lodged in the earl or count, who was the immediate officer to the crown, and this high office was granted by the king at will, sometime for life, and afterwards in fee, but when it became too burdensome, and could not be commodiou.sly executed by a person of so high rank and quality, it was thought necessary to constitute a person duly qualified, to officiate in his room and stead, from hence he is called Sheriff, from Shire reeve, i.e. Governor of the Shire or country. He is likewise considered in our books as bailiff to the crown, and his country of which he hath the care, and in which he is to execute the king’s writ, is called a Bailwick. (Co. Litt. 168). (Tomlins Law Diet.)In English law the sheriff is the principal officer in every country, and has the transacting of the public business of the country. The duties of the sheriff consist principally in executing writs, precepts, warrants from justices of the peace for the apprehension offenders, etc. 

The office of sheriff is recognized in the earliest annals of English Law. It is much older than Magna Charta, and the exact time of its creation is involved in much obscurity, but the place and function of the sheriff is easily determined. He has been in all times a chief peace officer of the bailwick. Under all system of government which have recognized the law as the supreme rule of action, it has been found absolutely necessary to vest in some one person the ultimate power to preserve the peace and quell disorder and suppress riots, and this person is the sheriff. His power is largely a discretionary one. In all times of great emergency or in a crisis of unusual danger, the limits under which his discretion may be exercised have been held by the courts not to be fixed (Ame. Words. and Phrases) A person appointed by the state Government in the Presidency towns, who is responsible for keeping of the prisoners in safe custody, preparing the panel of the jurors, the execution of the writs and of the sentence of death (S.88(c) Registration Act.) The word sheriff as a generic term, includes-not only the sheriff proper but also deputy sheriff, and whole class of officers performing duties usually appertaining to the office of the sheriff.  The office of the sheriff also called Shrievalty, Sheriffdom or Sheriffship, is one of the great antiquity and importance and is in its origin an English Institution. In the reign of King Cenute (1017-1036) Sheriff was the King’s Stewart and judicial President of the shire, the administrator of the Royal demesne and executor of the law. The word sheriff once meant the Governor of a shire. In ancient times it was the Earls who exercised this office & held it as long as they wished, but afterwards when the estates for life and of inheritance were granted, Shrivalities were established sheriffs have the same powers the ancient Earls had, of which dignity there are some relics left, for instance the White Ward.  Usually termed as the High Sheriff in England,he is the executive authority in a country or other place called “Bailiwick”. In the past the sheriff had ludicial functions &used to exercise both civil & criminal jurisdiction. The Shiremoot referred to in Halsbury’s law of England was a court  held periodically by the Sheriff. Such jurisdisctions however have now been transferred to the country courts.The sheriff still exercises some judicial functions & has ministerial powers & duties of an extensive & important character in England and Ireland.   But there were rapid changes in the Shrievalty and by 1071, few Englishmen remained as sheriffs. By 1068, Norman Sheriffs were in charge of fortress cities like London & York & also exter and Worcester. Moreover the power & dignity of the office increased with the change in constitution of the shire, soon after! 066, a country was being called ‘Vicecomitatus’ or ‘Sheriffdom’ and the sheriff was the sole head of the shire. During 12th century the Royal control of sheriff was intensified & his tenure of the office depended on the King’s pleasure. With the setting up of the Exchequer under Henry 1 each sheriff was required to give financial account of his office through his shire held courts to ensure that no criminal escaped punishment. The sheriffs journey across his shire was a characteristic feature of English medieval life. Sheriffs were formerly chosen by the inhabitants of the several countries, in confirmation of which it was enacted by a statute of Edward 1 (1300) that the people should have election of sheriffs in every shire where the Shievalty is not inheritance, for anciently, in some countries the sheriffs were hereditary. In the 16th-17th century all prominent landowners expected to have considerable knowledge of and no sheriff could plead ignorance of law for his lapses. In 17th century a lawyer said “the office of the sheriff was chiefly in the execution & serving the writs & process of laws to compel men to appear to answer to the law & also for taking of men’s bodies or lands according to judgements given in superior courts and to do this he is the immediate officer of the King and all his courts”. By the 17th century the ancient shire courts become almost defunct & it dealt with only insignificant cases. In this court, however, the Knights of the shire were elected to serve in parliament, the country elections were in the sheriffs hand. By the 18th century the sheriff had merely ceremonial functions to perform. The military functions of the sheriff had by now vanished with his discretionary powers. The office as it stands today differs chiefly from that of the past because the growing modern system of government & their modern Judicial system. ]