What is a Messenger-at-Arms? How are they different from Sheriff Officers?

January 11, 2016

The office of messenger-at-arms dates back several hundred years. It is an historic profession that carries with it great responsibility, and generates more than a little trepidation for those being pursued for money.

Originally known as Officers of the King, messengers-at-arms now act for the Scottish Court of Session, which is the supreme civil court in Scotland. As agents of the civil court, there are no geographical restrictions on their jurisdiction. They have authority to act throughout the whole of Scotland, fully executing the decisions made under court process.

The powers of a sheriff officer on the other hand, are largely restricted to the regional sheriffdom in which they are appointed. There are six such sheriffdoms in Scotland, further divided up into 49 Sheriff Court Districts.

How do the roles and powers of messenger-at-arms and sheriff officer differ?

Known collectively as Officers of the Court, the two roles are very similar in nature. The intention is to recover unpaid monies following the issue of a court order. The main difference between a messenger-at-arms and a sheriff office is the extent of authority and power held.

A messenger-at-arms will execute decisions made in the Scottish Court of Session, whereas the source of a sheriff officer’s authority is regional. Both roles include the serving of summons, citations and writs to indebted individuals and businesses in Scotland, as well as performing diligence measures in relation to decree warrants and orders made by the court.

Let us have a look at some of the work of the office of messenger-at-arms, and how their duties might impact on you if you are currently struggling to repay debt.

Summary warrant enforcement

Once a summary warrant for payment of outstanding debt has been issued, any future repayments are made to the officer of the court rather than to your creditor. Council tax arrears are commonly pursued in this way, and if a repayment plan is not made with the sheriff officer or messenger-at-arms, they are likely to take one or more of the following courses of action on behalf of the creditor.

Diligence measures and recovery of debt

If you have failed to respond to an initial writ or summons issued by the court, a messenger-at-arms or sheriff officer will be charged with taking various enforcement measures on behalf of the court.

These could include:

  • Arrestment of earnings – allowing your creditor to recover money directly from your wages.
  • Bank arrestment – funds in your bank account may be frozen.
  • Third party arrestment – moveable property held by a third party could be earmarked for arrestment in full or part repayment of the debt.
  • Exceptional attachment – this relates to non-essential items in and around your home that can be seized by an officer of the court holding this specific type of warrant.

Dealing with messengers-at-arms and sheriff officers may seem daunting, but it helps to know and understand the powers that they hold. Scotland Debt Solutions offers advice to Scottish residents on what to do if contacted by an Officer of the Court. Phone our expert team to arrange a free initial meeting at one of five offices around Scotland.

John Baird

Insolvency Adviser

Tel: 0800 063 9250

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