Sheriff Officer (Scotland)

The Job and What's Involved

Sheriff officers and messengers-at-arms work for the Scottish courts, enforcing court orders, serving legal documents and collecting debts. They do similar work to county court bailiffs in England and Wales.

Your duties in this job might include:

  • Writing to debtors to ask for payment.
  • Talking to debtors and arranging for them to repay in instalments.
  • Serving court papers such as writs and summonses.
  • Offering money management advice.
  • Repossessing goods and property.
  • Arranging for recovered goods to be sold at auction.
  • Keeping accurate records and being responsible for any money and goods recovered.

Sheriff officers work for the civil courts and hold a 'commission' to work in a particular region, while messengers-at-arms can travel anywhere in Scotland to enforce orders of the Court of Session. Collectively they are known as 'officers of court'.

You would work around 37 to 40 hours a week in a full-time job. You must be flexible in your working hours, and be able to cover early morning, evenings and weekends. Part-time work is possible.

You would have an office base but you would spend most of your time travelling to visit debtors. The job often involves lifting and carrying goods.

Training salaries can be between £12,000 and £16,000 a year. Qualified sheriffs officers usually earn around £26,000 a year, with £28,000 for messengers-at-arms.

Many firms pay a basic salary plus some form of commission or incentive payment to boost earnings.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are about 200 sheriff officers in Scotland, and around 130 of these are also messengers-at-arms. You would be employed by private firms of sheriff officers and messengers-at-arms and be commissioned to work for the courts.

The members list on the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers website is a good place to start to find contacts for possible job vacancies.

Education and Training

You would usually start as a witness to a sheriff officer. To be commissioned as a sheriff officer you must be 20 years old or over, with at least three years' training with an officer of court. You must also pass the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers exam.

You will usually need at least five S grades (1-3) including English and maths to take the sheriff officer exam. Other qualifications or relevant work experience may be accepted – check with the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers.

You could start as a witness to a sheriff officer before you are 20, but you must be at least 20 before you can take the exam and gain the commission. You will also usually need a full clean driving licence and the use of a car for work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

You would be trained on the job, through a mixture of working with a qualified officer of court and attending short courses. This normally takes three years.

You can continue with training and development throughout your career, through the continuing professional development (CPD) scheme that the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers provides for its members.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A sheriff officer needs:

  • An assertive and confident manner.
  • The ability to deal with people from all backgrounds.
  • Tact, diplomacy and good negotiation skills.
  • Calmness under pressure, as people may become distressed or aggressive.
  • Good judgement.
  • The ability to learn and understand the relevant laws.
  • Basic mathematical skills, for calculating repayments with debtors.
  • Commercial awareness, for assessing the value of goods.
  • A reasonable level of physical fitness.
  • Willingness to work alone or as part of a small team.

Your Long Term Prospects

After at least two years' experience as a qualified sheriff officer, you can take a further exam and apply to be commissioned as a messenger-at-arms.

Get Further Information

Society of Messengers-at-Arms
and Sheriff Officers,
11 Alva Street, Edinburgh EH2 4PH
Tel: 0131 225 9110

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