“A truly amazing honour”

words: John Weir
John Weir

As John Weir settles into his new role as High Sheriff for Kent, SAIFInsight gets the inside info on what it involves…

“Apart from the funeral business, I’ve spent 24 years as a magistrate, and I was bench chairman for the North Kent bench, but when I was asked if I’d like my name to be put in nomination for the post of High Sheriff of Kent, it took a bit of thinking about.

But it’s an amazing honour, it truly is.

At a private ceremony at Windsor Castle on March 10, the Queen picked the sheriffs in a tradition which goes back 1,000 years. What’s amazing, and humbling, is that the sovereign still picks the sheriffs personally using a silver bodkin which Elizabeth I used for the first time in the 16th century. Three names are on a parchment scroll for each area, and she pricks one.

That’s done because, years ago, the High Sheriff had tremendous powers including collecting taxes and, of course, enforcing law and order and there was no choice of being put in nomination. So, when the list was written in ink, people would try to get the names off of it, but when there’s a hole in the parchment there’s no going back.

But it’s not until 12 April, when the confirmation appears in the London Gazette, that you can actually press the green button. The Lord Chief Justice issued a word of caution to say whilst he congratulated us all for being in nomination, Her Majesty would be mightily displeased if we were to assume we were going to be chosen.

So, for the next year, I am the Queen’s representative in all things judicial in the county of Kent, making sure her interests in police, prisons, courts and emergency services are upheld.

The courts and the prisons are familiar territories for me, but the role also involves ensuring the welfare of High Court judges when they visit the county to conduct trials, and I will support the Lord Lieutenant in the county and attend any royal visits that may occur.

My diary is beginning to fill up with High Sheriff duties now, but I’m very fortunate that at the office we’ve got a very, very good team. As we are a very large practice, I don’t go out on every funeral, but if any families particularly want me, or if I’m looking after people that I know, that will take precedence. I’m very fortunate that Beverly, my wife, is a very good organiser, as is my PA, Debbie Tunnard, so I’ve just got to turn up.

Because of COVID, I was sworn in on April 16 at St Margaret’s Church, Rainham, with events overseen by His Honour Judge David Griffith-Jones QC, resident judge and honorary recorder at Maidstone Crown Court. Traditionally you’d entertain the people afterwards, provide them with refreshments and so forth, but that wasn’t possible. However I’ve had so many warm wishes from people within the funeral business.

High Sheriffs tend to have a theme for the year. If I were to follow that, my theme would be young people. I’ve chaired a lot of youth courts in the past, and one of my aims is to support the young offender teams in Medway in Kent in an endeavour to keep young people out of the criminal justice system. However, because of the year we’ve just had, I’m going to concentrate on the unsung heroes, to say thank you to those who have kept this county going.

It’s going to be an interesting year.”

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