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02nd April 2020

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.

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The offices of High Sheriff and Under Sheriff are ancient, dating back to Saxon times. Each year, the Queen appoints a new High Sheriff for each of the nation’s bailiwicks (essentially, the historic counties), but before they can take office, the High Sheriff and appointed Under Sheriff have to make a series of promises to Her Majesty by way of Declarations. By law (The Sheriffs Act 1887) the Declarations have to be made before (that is, in the presence of) a High Court Judge or a magistrate (not uncommonly, the Lord-Lieutenant of the county as responsible for the magistracy). But how can this be done safely during this unique period of ‘social distancing’? This was the question that led Hewitsons partner and Under Sheriff of Northamptonshire, Dominic Hopkins, to ask The Queen’s Remembrancer whether the law might be interpreted to allow Declarations to be made electronically, by video conferencing facility? Indeed so.

This grand officer of state (the Senior Master of the High Court), responsible for administering the legal requirements of the Shrieval offices has sanctioned a contemporary interpretation of the legislation to permit the Declarations to be made by telephone conference or video conference. I think we can safely say, this is a first. Mr Paul Parsons (the appointed High Sheriff of Northamptonshire for the year ahead) and Dominic will be making their Declarations before the Lord-Lieutenant, Mr James Saunders Watson, this Friday, 3 April 2020, by ‘Zoom’ conferencing. The ruling will apply to High Sheriffs and Under Sheriffs up and down the country, ensuring their appointments can be taken up safely.

Dominic has been appointed Deputy Lieutenant for Northamptonshire and holds the office of Under Sheriff of Northamptonshire. He also heads up Hewitsons' Dispute and Litigation services.