Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers has issued 3  sets of guidelines.

The following guidance has been created to assist Officers of Court in striking a balance between their own and public safety, and attempting to ensure Officers of Court remain available to effect service of documents and execute Decrees, Decisions or Orders of a Court or Tribunal. This guidance does not list all possible types of instructions an  Officer  of Court  may  be  requested to undertake, nor does it have any  effect on the ability to  lawfully execute any  Decree, Decision or  Order  of Court or Tribunal.

 

Covid-19 Guidance for members
Update - 6th November 2020

Following the publication of the Scottish Government’s Scotland’s Strategic Framework, which replaced the previous phases in Scotland’s Route map with a new tier system, the President and Executive Council have updated the Society’s guidance to members.
As with our previous guidance, our approach is to mirror the steps taken by the Scottish Government and, in particular, the steps outlined for Community and public services, of which officers of court form a part.
This guidance will set out an approach for each of the 5 tiers of protection levels - with the caveat, mentioned in our previous guidance, that all members assess carefully what is reasonably practicable in respect of instructions, taking into consideration the most up to date official government advice.
Members should also continue to follow all general guidance around working safely, for their own protection, their colleagues’, employees’ and members of the general public’s.
The new tiered approach differs most significantly from previous guidance in that different protection levels are now applied to each local authority area.  As many of our members will carry out instructions in a number of local authority areas, it is important to check which tier is applicable to the area in which you are working.
In respect of the new tiers we suggest the following approach:

Protection Level O
This is the lowest level, in which officers of court should be carrying out their official functions without restriction, whilst continuing to pay close attention to general public health guidance.

Protection Level 1
Service: Initial Writs, Summonses, Simple Procedure Claims, Summary Applications, Petitions, Interdicts, ASBOs, Statutory Demands, Demand Letters and other Notices that require to be served under statute. 
Enforcement: Charges for Payment, Arrestments, Inhibitions, Earnings Arrestments, Attachments, Money Attachments, Ejections and Exceptional Attachment Orders.

Protection Level 2
Service: Initial Writs, Summonses, Simple Procedure Claims, Summary Applications, Petitions, Interdicts, ASBOs, Statutory Demands, Demand Letters and other Notices that require to be served under statute. 
Enforcement: Charges for Payment, Arrestments, Inhibitions, Earnings Arrestments, Attachments, Money Attachments, Ejections and Exceptional Attachment Orders.

Protection Level 3
The designation Level 3 indicates an area in which there is a high prevalence of the virus.  In these areas we recommend that you do not carry out Exceptional Attachments or Ejections at domestic premises.

Protection Level 4
This is the highest level and, in addition to the restrictions in Level 3, we also recommend that you do not execute Attachments, except at commercial premises that remain open.


Lockdown
In the event that a further national lockdown is announced, it would be appropriate to recognise the difference between it and the initial lockdown of March 2020. In a further lockdown, it is likely that public services such as the courts would continue to function, as would schools and universities.  In such circumstances, we recommend that members restrict their activities in citation to service of Initial Writs, Summonses, Simple Procedure Claims, Interdicts, ASBOSs and other Notices that require to be served under statute.  With regard to enforcement; we recommend that members restrict their activities to the execution of Arrestments, Inhibitions and Earnings Arrestments (where a Charge has previously been executed) and, at business or commercial premises only, Charges for Payment.

Ejections
We recognise that there are certain circumstances, e.g. anti-social behaviour cases, or unauthorised occupations, where ejections may still be required urgently, regardless of the Protection Level.  In these instances, members should exercise their professional judgment and liaise closely with parties before proceeding. 
There will also be cases where an ejection is instructed in a low tier area, however the occupants either have the virus or are self-isolating.  An officer of court should take all reasonably practicable steps safely to verify such claims and, if they are verified, we recommend that the ejection should be re-arranged for a later date.  Again, it will be important to exercise professional judgment and liaise closely with parties.
 

 

Guidlines 2 Covid-19 Guidance for Members Update - 5 June 2020

The President and the Executive Council are extremely grateful to members and how they have responded to the current crisis. We consider the unified approach taken by the profession to have been extremely important in maintaining public trust and confidence in our delivery of the essential services that we provide in supporting the administration of justice.

As we now begin the gradual process of returning to normal we felt it important to update our guidance to reflect the changing circumstances. The Scottish Government has issued a publication COVID-19 – Framework for Decision Making – Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis.

This sets out a phased return over 5 stages including lockdown through to phase 4. Our guidance for members is based upon this approach and in particular the steps outlined for Community and public services of which we form a part. This guidance will set out an approach for each of the phases with the caveat mentioned in our previous guidance that all members assess carefully what is reasonably practicable in respect of instructions taking into consideration the most up to date Official Government advice.

Members should also note that during lockdown two important pieces of legislation were introduced:

Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 & Coronavirus (Scotland)(No.2) Act 2020

Both have sections in relation to intimation and bankruptcy which will be of relevance to members. Working Safely It is essential that both members and those who work for them are safe as we resume our activities and we recommend that you regularly check the guidance on Working Safely provided by the Government.

Information provided by the Scottish Government can be found here: https://www.gov.scot/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance/ The UK Government has also published guidance which is applicable for England but does have some useful guidance in relation to working safely in offices and contact centres and working safely on or from a vehicle. Members may find this useful as they make preparations and details can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/offices-and-contact-centres https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/vehicles In respect of The Scottish Government Route Map we suggest the following approach Lockdown Our previously issued guidance remains in effect.

We would recommend that during this lockdown period members for their own safety and that of others refrain as much as possible from face to face contact with members of the public. The activities which we consider as non-urgent include; serving Charges for Payment, Charges for Removal, Notices of Removal, Attachments and Auctions, Ejections, service of Initial Writs, Summonses and Simple Procedure Claims unless there is an imminent time-bar, Statutory Demands, Demand Letters and any other notices not linked to safety or welfare that require served under statute. Careful consideration should also be given as to whether an Arrestment or Earnings Arrestment is urgent.

Phase 1 As the courts and tribunals begin re-opening and increasing the volume of business they are processing, members should resume the service of Initial Writs, Summonses, Simple Procedure Claims and other Notices that require served under statute. With regards to enforcement of decrees; Arrestments, Inhibitions and Earnings Arrestments (where a Charge has previously been executed) and at business and commercial premises, Charges for Payment should also resume.

Phase 2 With the further scaling up of public services from phase 1 and where it is safe to do so, the service of Statutory Demands and other Demand Letters. With regards to enforcement the service of Charges for Payment, Charges for Removing and Notices of Removal. At business and other commercial premises Attachments and Ejections.

Phase 3 This marks a further resumption of justice system processes and services. Enforcement should recommence of Attachments, Money Attachments, Ejections and Exceptional Attachment Orders.

Phase 4 All Public services operating fully, in line with public health advice. Conclusion There is a well known legal maxim in Scots Law “Justice delayed is justice denied” and we are conscious that many of the ordinary citizens who use our services have been affected by the restrictions imposed by lockdown. We hope that the route map laid out in this guidance will ensure that access to justice is restored in a safe and timely fashion.

Guidlines 1

Covid 19

Issued 30 March 2020

We know that this is a very challenging time for everyone, and we are issuing the following guidance to assist members. The UK and Scottish Governments have put in place stringent restrictions to our normal day to day lives, to slow the spread of the virus and prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed – restrictions essential to save life. The only permissible reasons to leave home are as follows: * To shop for necessities and that should be limited to once a day

* To take exercise once a day - but alone or with your own household, not in groups

* For medical reasons or to care for a vulnerable person

* To travel to essential work if that cannot be done at home.

Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers provide an essential public service. During this period, it is critical that we maintain public trust and confidence by maintaining the essential services that support justice. In responding to an enquiry from one of our members the Scottish Government’s Directorate for Justice, following the most recent measures taken by government in response to the Covid-19 crisis, confirms that the work of officers can be regarded as “essential” and justifiable, notwithstanding the current public health advice, but only in the very limited circumstances of the courts’ operating model for emergency civil business. The Society has also contacted the Lord President and Sheriff Principals from whom all Officers hold their commissions and asked them to issue guidance to remove any uncertainty as to what is and isn’t appropriate or allowed. We will issue any guidance as soon as it becomes available. Until then then the Society urge members to follow the following guidance. Since Wednesday 25 March 2020 all court business has been adjourned or continued administratively except for (I) cases where the accused is in custody (ii) appearances from undertakings and (iii) emergency civil applications. Urgent business includes new applications for child protection orders, interim interdicts, child referral appeals, urgent adoptions or urgent interim residence or contact applications, caveats and urgent applications in relation to Adults with Incapacity.

Other urgent matters on cause shown. There are several instances and circumstances which may constitute urgent business and we recommend that members carefully assess this on a case by case basis. Whilst the Society cannot tell members what to do it is the view of the Executive Council that all normal day to day debt recovery, diligence and citation would not be considered urgent. We would recommend that during this lockdown period members for their own safety and that of others refrain as much as possible from face to face contact with members of the public. The activities which we consider as non-urgent include; serving Charges for Payment, Charges for Removal, Notices of Removal, Attachments and Auctions, Ejections, service of Initial Writs, Summonses and Simple Procedure Claims unless there is an imminent time-bar, Statutory Demands, Demand Letters and any other notices not linked to safety or welfare that require served under statute. Careful consideration should also be given as to whether an Arrestment or Earnings Arrestment is urgent. While our members have a duty to accept lawful instructions there are also several instances where they can refuse to do so as mentioned in the A.S Messengers-at-Arms & Sheriff Officer Rules 1991 Rule 14: (4) An officer of court may refuse to execute a citation, serve any document required under any legal process or execute diligence where– (a)the prescribed, or reasonable, expenses have not been tendered to him or secured by or on behalf of the person instructing him; or (b)it is not reasonably practicable for him to carry out his instructions and this has been intimated forthwith on receipt of the instructions to the person instructing him. We would recommend that all members assess carefully what is reasonably practicable in respect of instructions taking into consideration the most up to date Official Government advice.

Note; Since the issuing by the Society of this Guidance note to every officer of court on 30th March, the Lord President and Sheriff Principal Stephen, having seen this Guidance, have written to the Society that they do not consider it necessary, at present, to add any further guidance to that which has already been given.