Sheriff Officers Scotland – Help & Advice
What is a Sheriff Officer?
A sheriff officer is an equivalent to a UK bailiff. They may be accompanied by a witness in cases where legal documents require a signature. The witness does not have to be a sheriff officer.
They work for individuals, companies, solicitors, local authorities and government departments carrying out court orders for evictions, debt enforcement, property disputes, family matters such as divorce and adoptions, they are permitted to remove members of your family from your home in cases of abuse or domestic violence, and they are also employed to deliver legal court documents if the courts need a proof of delivery.
Sheriff offices and officers are governed by heavy legislation set up within Scottish Law, so it is important that you know your rights and are what you are permitted and not permitted to do if you come into contact with a sheriff officer or have to deal with anyone working within any given sheriff offices.
The higher civil court (Court of Session) uses court officers called Messengers-at-Arms, who are also sheriff offers.
A sheriff officer is not affiliated to the police.
Dealing with a Sheriff Officer, Scotland – Your Rights
He must supply ID
A sheriff officer must provide identification when asked to do so. They will have a red book with a photograph of themselves and the sheriff clerk for the region or area in Scotland where they are permitted to operate will have countersigned it.
Even on supplying identification you can still ask them who they are working for and can contact their employers or sheriff offices to confirm their authenticity.
You don’t have to supply any information
You do not have to tell a sheriff officer any personal information if you feel uncomfortable doing so.
You are free to withhold your name and address. You should never give away your phone number or supply an officer with bank details.
If a sheriff officer obtains your telephone number and uses constant calling techniques in order to intimidate you, you can report them for harassment under The Communications Act 2003 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. If you need assistance in writing a letter of complaint seek professional help from and agency set up specifically in dealing with your legal matter.
Do you have to let Sheriff Officers into your home?
If a sheriff officer doesn’t posses a court order allowing him access to the property you do not have to let them in. Deal with them outside the property asking any questions you need answering without giving them access. This could save you additional problems in asking an officer to leave you alone or to end any sign of harassment.
Rights When Involved in Eviction
Sheriff officers can only operate between 8am and 8pm Monday to Saturday (not including public holidays) unless granted a specific order to work at additional times. They may be able to do so in cases where they are recovering a child or somebody is in danger.
You will be given notice of eviction, usually 2 weeks, and also it’s accepted that you’ll be given 48 hours to vacate the property on notification.
They can also force entry while you are out of the property if they are ensuring court enforced work has been carried out or recovering other property for a client.
Sheriff officer powers
With the provision of a court order they can force entry to the property using reasonable force. This includes breaking locks, windows or forcing doors. The costs incurred are the responsibility of the creditor but can be passed back to you as part of the settlement.
A sheriff officer can use physical force to remove you from a property. In cases where this seems likely they can request to be accompanied by the police. The police are not permitted to help with the sheriff officer’s duties but can intervene and apprehend you if you commit any crime throughout your eviction such as a breach of the peace or an assault on the sheriff officer.
Rights When Involved in Debt Recovery
They can’t take everything.
Sheriff officers can only take non-essential items under the guidelines of Exceptional Attachment. These are items considered essential in everyday living; items such as beds, clothes, some furniture, computers and fitted electrical appliances. There is a list outlining recoverable and non-recoverable items at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2002/17/schedule/2
In cases of exceptional attachment a sheriff officer has to give you notice that they are doing so and although they can gain access using force they cannot take any items if nobody is present, nor if the person present is under 16 years old or has a problem understanding what is happening due to language barriers or a physical or mental disability.
If the debt recovery is not accepted as a case of exceptional attachment the sheriff officer doesn’t have to give you notice and can visit you to remove property at their discretion.
Sheriff officer powers
A sheriff officer can take possessions belonging to you to cover the cost or part cost of the debt. Again, an officer will carry this out between 8am to 8pm Monday to Saturday excluding public holidays.
What to do if you need help?
You can take steps to alleviate problems and negate issues with any sheriff offices by trying to find a suitable compromise that will work for all parties in good time. You can do this in person, via email or telephone when notified that an action is to take place.
You can also discuss possible compromise with a visiting sheriff officer. He will understand your case and can outline the various problems you need to overcome.
You can also directly contact your creditor, landlord, solicitor or other to reach an alternate solution before any action progresses too far and could also prevent your visit from a sheriff officer.
How to complain about a sheriff officer
- Write to the offending officer and the company he works for. Take the advice of an expert to make sure your requests and complaints are within the law and appropriate to your situation.
- If you do not attain an acceptable resolve to your situation you can write to the Sheriff Principal who can organise an investigation if deemed appropriate.
You can find your local sheriff court here:
- You may also make complaints to the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Offers.
The society covers all sheriff officers Scotland currently has in operation with disciplinary and complaints procedures. The office for correspondence is:Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers
28 Rutland Square
Edinburgh EH1 2BW
Tel: 0131 292 0321
- Seek professional advice from a reputable company that deals in your specific situation.