A TOP judge, cathedral dean and a leading businessman have broken more than 1,000 years of tradition by opening a crown court in their living rooms and donning their official robes to confirm the Queen’s appointment of a high sheriff.

A worldwide audience logged onto Youtube to watch the ancient North Yorkshire high sheriff declaration ceremony unfold after Judge Sean Morris, the Recorder of York, opened the ceremony, which could not be held at the Assizes in York as usual due to the coronavirus restrictions.

He was joined in the virtual court by witnesses including the chair of the magistrates, the under sheriff of North Yorkshire, the dean of Ripon Cathedral, last year’s high sheriff and the leading barrister of the North-Eastern circuit, who were all connected online for the declaration of office by David Kerfoot as high sheriff for the coming year.

Judge Morris said: “All persons with anything to do before her majesty’s crown court draw near and give your attendance we are now in court.” He spoke about how early holders of the office of high sheriff could raise taxes, were in charge of the local militia, could hold court and hand out punishments, or raise “a hue and cry” to pursue villains. The judge said Mr Kerfoot had been chosen by the monarch in an ancient ritual in which a silver dagger pierced a roll of names, before the appointment was approved by Privy Council.

Mr Kerfoot, who with his wife, Elizabeth, co-founded a firm which has become the UK’s leading provider of oils to the food, technical and personal care industries, was selected after many years of public service and is the chair of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership.

“As his wife placed the high sheriff’s badge of office around the neck in the lounge of their home in Ainderby Steeple, near Northallerton, Mr Kerfoot held his declaration aloft, and pledged to “uphold the good laws and statutes of this role and in all things will well and truly behave myself in my office for the honour of the queen and the good of her subjects”.

Judge Morris said: “After all that ceremony going back all those years, century on centuries, this is the first, as far as I am aware, ever ceremony that has been held on computer. That is a sign of the times.”

Whilst the duties of the role have evolved over time, supporting the Crown and the Judiciary remain central elements of the role today.

After the Shrievalty ceremony, Mr Kerfoot said people had contacted him from around the world to say they found the ancient ceremony intriguing and uplifting and the fact it had been staged in people’s living rooms gave it more feeling and atmosphere.

He said: “Shrievalty is not as well known as it could be and this has given it a much wider audience. My son-in-law set up the system for the ceremony to take place and it’s something that I am going to use as I can’t get out and about as I would like to.”

Mr Kerfoot said he intends to extend the high sheriff awards from those who further the judicial process to include people who excel themselves during the coronavirus crisis.