Last night, as High Sheriff of Belfast, I attended the evening service of the Martyr’s Memorial Chuch as the Congregation said farewell to my friend Dr Ian Paisley in his retirement. A special retirement event for the Church as a whole would take place later in the month.
And today I hosted a Lunch for the Judiciary of Belfast, by kind permission of the Lord Mayor and City Council, in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour, with a Reception in the Lady Mayoress’s Parlour, City Hall , Belfast.
The Attendees were myself, The High Sheriff Dr Ian Adamson OBE;The Chief Executive Mr Peter McNaney; Mrs Suzanne Wylie; The Rt Hon Sir Declan Morgan, The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland;The Rt Hon Lord Justice Girvan; The Rt Hon Lord Justice Coghlin; The Hon Mr Justice McCloskey; His Hon Judge Burgess, Recorder of Belfast; His Hon Judge Rodgers; Her Hon Judge Kennedy; Her Hon Judge McReynolds; Her Hon Judge Smyth; His Hon Judge Fowler QC; His Hon Judge Miller QC and His Honour Judge Weir QC.
Over the centuries, the Sheriff’s duties have been reduced. For instance, Justices of the Peace or magistrates were appointed to administer the law in the 13th Century and given permanent commission in 1361. Henry VIII appointed Lord Lieutenants to undertake military matters in the shires but it was not until 1908 that Edward VII gave Lord Lieutenants precedence over High Sheriffs (who take second place unless deferring to Lord Mayors, Mayors and local authority Chairmen on civic occasions in their districts). Through Acts of Parliament in 1856 and 1865, all powers concerning prisons and policing passed from the Sheriff to the Prison Commissioners and the Constabulary. Under an Act of 1883, the care of Crown property was transferred to the Crown Commissioners.
So, as society and government developed further, the powers and duties of the Sheriff were substantially reduced, but the Sheriff continues to occupy a significant role in the legal landscape of the County and the life of the Courts. Constitutionally, the Sheriff remains the Chief Executive Officer of the Crown in the County, and is responsible for enforcing the Crown’s writ where there is no other agency with that responsibility. The role still involves looking after the Sovereign’s Judges, supporting those offices and agencies that uphold law and order (including, where directed by a Judge, the making of awards to members of the public who have assisted in the apprehension of a person charged with an offence) and, more generally, uniting all subjects in loyalty to the Monarchy.
The High Sheriff is appointed directly or indirectly by the Sovereign, and one of the first duties is to appoint an Under Sheriff as deputy, customarily a practising solicitor. Each must make a declaration on taking appointment. Whilst both offices are annual appointments, it is convention for the Under Sheriff to be reappointed so as to provide continuity of support for the incoming High Sheriff. Broadly speaking, High Sheriffs are appointed for the local administrative area created in 1974 and Under Sheriffs still operate on the pre-1974 county boundaries, though there are some regional variations.This has not happened however in Northern Ireland
It has been said that the story of the office of High Sheriff is the story of England itself. The post has developed over its 1,000 years or more of continuous existence and devotion to the Crown, with duties of High Sheriff being adapted and moulded to today’s needs. Upholding law and order and loyalty to the Crown stay paramount, but the importance of recognising and rewarding the community spirit amongst the population now assumes ever greater importance. The last decades have witnessed many difficult social and environmental changes but today’s High Sheriff still fulfils the ancient role of supporting the shire, upholding its peace and encouraging its communities to act in the furtherance of the good of all.
At this Lunch for the Judiciary , I introduced them to The Posse Comitatus and to the Council’s Dedicated Officer to the Posse, Mrs Suzanne Kathryn Wylie. Mrs Wylie is currently Director of Health and Environmental Services, Belfast City Council, responsible to the Council’s Licensing Committee and the Health and Environmental Services Committee. Among her many responibilitiies are Community Safety and District Policing Partnerships,working with other agencies and communities to reduce crime, fear of crime and antisocial behaviour through both formal partnerships and the delivery of services such as a street wardens service and grant programmes. Her Key priorities for the Year ahead include creating a new joined up Policing and Community Safety Partnership in the City and developing a better focus on neighbourhoods, including the implementation of a long term strategy for the Holyland area of Belfast and other initiatives dealing with interface problems.
Mrs Wylie’s role involves leadership of a very busy, diverse and customer focused service which exists to protect and improve the safety, health and wellbeing of those people who live, work in or visit Belfast. She has also worked via a number of partnerships to bring about more joined up working and improve the impact that public services have on improving health and wellbeing and community safety. As well as making improvements internally, she has focussed on developing external relationships and making the partnerships her Service is involved in more focused and effective;she has led on the development and delivery of strategic multi-agency projects and plans such as the Safer Belfast Plan or the Healthy Aging Plan which has buy in from all sectors; and ensured that the Service and its partnerships are more connected with and responsive to local politicians and local communities. For example, in response to community concerns about antisocial behaviour, she led on the establishment of a community safety wardens scheme for the city which is paid for by a wide range of agencies.
Another example was her involvement with the Hate Crime tension monitoring initiative which her Service has set up with statutory, community and voluntary sector organisations to pre-empt rising tensions in neighbourhoods and put in place early interventions. Mrs Wylie’s role in the development of The Posse Comitatus will therefore be crucial to its success. The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Sir Declan Morgan agreed and thanked me for hosting the Lunch, praising the Posse Comitatus initiative and speaking of his desire to make the Judiciary more open to the Community at large..