Nullus vicecomes, constabularius, coronatores, vel alii ballivi nostri, teneant placita coronae nostrae.
No sheriff[s], constable[s], coroners or other of our bailiffs are to hold the pleas of our crown.
Pleas of the crown were above all the serious crimes – homicide, arson, rape and the like – over which the king possessed an exclusive jurisdiction. In the years immediately after 1066 they were usually heard in the county court, presided over by the sheriff, but as the twelfth century progressed the latter’s powers were steadily whittled away, and in matters of law were largely entrusted instead to increasingly professional justices who were appointed at regular intervals by the central government to hold sessions in the shires – the so-called `eyres’. New offices were created, moreover, above all that of the coroner, to take over powers which the sheriff had once exercised locally, and to answer to the crown for some of the profits of justice which might otherwise have disappeared into the pockets of the sheriff and his staff. Inevitably this process was an uneven one, and although the sheriff’s jurisdiction where peace-keeping was concerned came to be largely confined to disorderly behaviour, he appears to have still been able to act against thieves into the early thirteenth century, while he was also sometimes tempted, or even required, to extend his powers in other ways at the expense of those he governed. The sheriffs acted as judges, very possibly in every county, in judicial visitations which were held throughout England in the summer of 1210, and which appear to have been far more concerned to bring in revenue for the king than to administer justice, and some of them were also later found to have exploited their office by dealing with, and profiting from, matters which would normally have been reserved for justices in eyre, had the latter still been operational (no eyres were held in England between 1209 and 1218) These acts of corruption and extortion on the part of sheriffs, together with their employment as financial agents masquerading as royal judges, were inevitably resented, and in Clause 24 resulted in a further, and sweeping, restraint being placed on their powers, and on those of all the other officials engaged in local government, one which took permanent effect.
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