Excerpt from Interim Report Respecting Sheriffs of the Commission to Inquire Into, Consider and Report Upon the Best Mode of Selecting, Appointing, and Numerating Sheriffs, Etc., Etc., 1921
Under the institution of Frank Pledge - the earliest English Police System on record - the County was divided into Tithings, or groups of ten family heads, who were mutually responsible for each other's good behaviour, and bound to assist in producing any one of their number who transgressed before the Officers of Justice. Ten Tithings formed a Hundred and when the Sheriff held his Tourn or Court throughout the County twice yearly, he inquired of the heads of the Hundreds and Tithings as to what offences had been committed since his last visit. Lmost offences were punished by fines, and the levying of fines was the general business of the Sheriff's Court.
The Sheriff, sitting in his Court, ordered the arrest of persons accused of grave crimes and tried all offences, even assaults of an aggravated nature, not charged as breaches of the King's Peace. All breaches of the King's Peace had to be referred to the King's Court. The Sheriff sitting in the County Court, or as it was called, the Sheriff's Court, had, till some time after the Norman Con quest, unlimited jurisdiction in the civil affairs of the County.
With the Norman Conquest a change came over the Sheriff's Court and the Sheriff or vice-comes as he was then called, became in reality a producer and collector of revenue for the King, by whom he was appointed. In Saxon times the Sheriff had probably been elected by the Freeholders, but the Norman Sheriff or vice-comes was appointed by the Crown and had to show some substantial evidence of his zeal for the Crown. Hence he usually endeavoured to collect as many fines as possible. This made the Sheriff's office unpopular with the public and, when the office was misused for the perversion of Justice, the ill-will in which it was held was greatly increased. The Norman Sheriff was not particular as to details in case of legal transgressions but simply fined the whole township or borough and left the community to settle who was to pay.
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