The Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers has issued 2 sets of guidelines.
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.
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.