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Sheriffs Courts

Volume 403: debated on Tuesday 8 April 2003

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If she will make a statement on the Lord Chancellor's review of under-high sheriffs', under-sheriffs' and sheriffs' High Court enforcement functions. [107457]

The Courts Bill, which is currently progressing through the other place, includes proposals to relieve sheriffs of their legal obligations in connection with High Court writs for the enforcement of judgment debts by the seizure and sale of debtors' goods and High Court writs for the possession of land. The Bill also introduces a new regime under which individuals will be authorised by the Lord Chancellor to act as enforcement officers for the purpose of executing those writs.

The Lord Chancellor's review of under-high sheriffs, under-sheriffs and sheriffs proposes that a writ may be addressed only to a member of the Sheriffs Officers Association. If, for any reason, an under-sheriff is unwilling or unable to become a member of that body and is therefore disqualified from receiving a writ, will there be compensation for that individual?

In the system that we are adopting, under-sheriffs and sheriff officers will be authorised by the Lord Chancellor or the person to whom he delegates responsibility for that authorisation, to carry out creditors' wishes to have a debt enforced. I therefore think that the problem that the hon. Lady has highlighted will not arise, because there will be an authorisation process, so sheriffs officers or enforcement officers, as they will now be called, will be able to carry out the process.

The removal of high sheriffs from any rolling High Court enforcement will, as the Minister said, break the link between the high sheriff and the under-sheriff. In the past, the under-sheriff has offered the incoming high sheriff an indemnity against any litigation that might be brought by aggrieved debtors. Will the Lord Chancellor's Department indemnify high sheriffs in any outstanding period between Royal Assent and the point when the statutory limitation becomes legally effective?

The issue that the hon. Gentleman has highlighted is one of the reasons for the change, because it was felt that it was unfair for a volunteer to be under certain legal obligations and carry such a responsibility. As for the time between Royal Assent and the continuation of the indemnity, that is certainly something that we shall look at and consult on.