HC Deb 17 September 2003 vol 410 c754W
Mr. Dismore

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many claims for negligence, errors or omissions have been made against under sheriffs in each of the last three years; what was(a) the highest claim, (b) the average claim and (c) the total value of claims; what was the total paid in settlement of claims for each of the last three years; what plans he has to indemnify sheriffs against liability for claims against under sheriffs; and if he will make a statement. [129317]

Mr. Lammy

The information requested is not available. The courts do not maintain statistics on the identity or role of defendants; nor does the Department employ or have direct responsibility for under sheriffs.

We do, however, consider the responsibility for enforcement of High Court writs as an onerous one for sheriffs to undertake, as their position is a voluntary one, and that responsibility extends for up to six years following their term of office. Therefore we are relieving them of this responsibility through measures contained in the Courts Bill. Present insurance arrangements made by under sheriffs cover the possibility of litigation for the duration of a high sheriffs responsibility. The matter of continuing cover once new measures are brought in is under careful consideration by the representatives of those who undertake this work and wish to continue to do so as well as those who represent under sheriffs and high sheriffs. We have no plans to indemnify sheriffs from public funds.

Mr. Dismore

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs what the duties of the office of sheriff consist of(a) formally and (b) informally; and if he will make a statement. [129319]

Mr. Leslie

High sheriffs are technically responsible for the enforcement of High Court writs, but this is, in practice, carried out on their behalf by under sheriffs, and this duty will be removed from high sheriffs by legislation currently before Parliament. The traditional role of the high sheriff is to escort to court and offer hospitality to High Court judges who visit their area. Informal duties are entirely a matter for individual sheriffs, who also have an informal representational role for their county. The office is unpaid, and the expenses are borne personally by the incumbent. High sheriffs receive no public funds, other than a small allowance for days when they attend judges in court.