Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms

17th July 2016

In Scotland, debt enforcement is carried out by Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms, not Baliffs.  This is often misunderstood by people when they see TV series featuring Bailiffs.Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms

In Scotland Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms are both Officers of the Court.

The difference between Baliffs and Scottish Enforcement Officers is quite stark, so they shouldn't be confused.

Sheriff Officers enforce the orders of the Sheriff Court, whilst Messenger at Arms enforce the orders of the Court of Session.

Who Regulates them?

Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms are strictly regulated in Scotland and can only act with the authority of the Court and only to the extent they are allowed to by the court and the law.

This means, for example, they should not try and force entry into a home unless they have an Exceptional Attachment Order, which is extremely rare. Where they do have one, they should present it to the person in the home at the time and should be given access to the property.

To obstruct an Officer of the Court could be considered contempt of court and the police may be called.

However, where it is believed an Officer has exceeded their authority or behaved in a manner that brings the Court into disrepute, a complaint can be made.

In the first instance complaints should be made to the Society of Messenger at Arms and Sheriff Officers.

A further complaint can also be made to the Court where it is believed they have brought the Court into disrepute. 

In the case of a Sheriff Officer the complaint should be made to the Sheriff Principal of the local Sheriff Court; whilst in the case of a Messenger at Arms, the complaint should be made to the Lord President's Office.

What Powers do They Have?

Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms have the power to enforce the orders of the Court.

This normally means enforcing the payments of debts, using a procedure in Scotland known as diligence.

Sheriff Officers can also be involved in evictions and repossessions.

Types of diligence Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms can enforce:

  • Charge for Payments
  • Earning Arrestments
  • Actions of Arrestment and Furthcoming
  • Attachments
  • Exceptional Attachment Order

Debt Collection

In Scotland some Sheriff Officer firms also act as debt collectors. 

If you are contacted by a firm you know to be Sheriff Officers, its important to ask in what capacity it is they are acting: as Sheriff Officers or debt collectors.

The reason why is debt collectors have no power in Scotland to enforce a debt in the way Sheriff Officers can. They can only ask you to make a payment, but cannot enter your home unless you invite them and cannot remove any of your property. 

Debt collection is also regulated not by the Court, but by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). If you have a complaint about a debt collection firm, there is a separate procedure which can be found here.