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When the Sheriff Comes Calling

When the Sheriff Comes Calling

When the Sheriff Comes Calling

When the Sheriff arrives at your home or office it’s usually not for tea.

Millions of people have experienced a visit from the Sheriff and the greater majority of them have shown outrage. It’s hard for us to realise that there’s nothing personal about the visit – it’s simply the Sheriff or his Deputy, doing their job.

Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs have a variety of duties to perform in the course of each day but most of them usually involve the serving and executing of all documents issued by our Courts. These include:

  • Summonses
  • Notices
  • Warrants
  • Court Orders

The services of the Sheriff are most needed when there are civil judgements against people who have failed to pay their accounts – rent, municipal services, maintenance, and the like; and in divorce and domestic violence matters.

Your Rights
All Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs must carry a valid Identification Card issued by the South African Board for Sheriffs. Whilst on duty they must be able to produce it on request. So when you get a visit from the Sheriff or his Deputy, you should ask to see their identification.

These officials must treat you with respect at all times, and they will answer your questions to the best of their abilities and deal with the matter at hand in the most dignified way possible.

In the case of Divorce the Sheriff or his Deputy will serve the Summons at your residence or office but he is more than happy to save you any embarrassment by allowing you to collect your Summons from his Office.

The Sheriff sand Deputy Sheriffs’ Rights
When executing duties with a legal court order the Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs have the right and must be allowed to:

  1. Enter your premises, even when you're not there;
  2. Open any door, and look at any vehicle or piece of furniture on your premises;
  3. Attach, remove and sell your vehicle, furniture and movable or immovable property.

However, without a Court Order, there are limitations on some things; for example:

  1. They may not attach and remove tools of trade you
    may need to carry out your work;
  2. They may not attach and remove basic necessary
    items such as food, beds, bedding and clothes.

Try not to provoke the Sheriffs or his Deputy, or treat them with hostility and resentment – this just makes a bad situation even worse. They won’t break down your door, destroy your property or abuse you in any way – they are simply trying to do their job with the minimum amount of negativity or obstruction; but they will do their job.

Some people are under the false impression that if they make a fuss and refuse to co-operate, there’s nothing the Sheriff can do. They assume it will stop the process. Quite the opposite is true. These Officials will, and are expected to, do their jobs even in spite of duress applied by others.

These people really are the ‘Messengers’ and the saying ‘don’t kill the Messenger’ is appropriate n this instance. So many false and detrimental assumptions are made about the Sheriff and the role he plays yet the irony is that these Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs will happily help you by explaining the contents of the document they are serving and go on to advise you what you need to do next.

Although they cannot give you any legal advice, they are there to help explain the legal process so that members of the public will be obtain a better understanding of their rights and the process involved. Why ‘shoot the Sheriff’ when he is there to assist you in your comprehension of his execution of the Law?

The South African Board for Sheriffs is a body that monitors the service provided by the Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriff. It ensures that their behaviour is correct and humane in terms of the Code of Conduct for Sheriffs. The Board for Sheriffs provides a line of recourse so that, if anyone feels that a Sheriff or Deputy Sheriff has failed to act in a fair, just and impartial manner, they are encouraged to report such incident to the CEO of the Board.

Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs have the misfortune to be regarded as ‘the enemy’ and members of the public tend to react to their presence in a hostile and argumentative fashion – some people are abusive and aggressive towards them. Yet these officials are just like everyone else simply doing ‘a day’s work for a day’s pay’.

Some of the things the general public do against them would be vaguely amusing, if they weren’t also horribly upsetting and embarrassing. For those persons feeling entitled to disrupt the Sheriffs’ work, they would do well to remember that Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs are appointed by the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development and act under the rules of, and orders from, the Court. People who violate their authority are liable for prosecution.

If one day the Sheriff or his Deputy call on you, instead of being angry and indignant, start with a smile and some common courtesy and you’ll be surprised how much better your meeting will progress.