Sheriffs face challenges in carrying out court orders

MAY 30, 2016

Threats and intimidation of civil court sheriffs is preventing them from doing their job of ensuring justice is carried out. This was among the findings at the 4th Annual General Meeting of the South African Sheriffs Society, which was held at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

This AGM was held under the theme “Sheriffs: the key to Civil Justice in South Africa” and was a platform for government to interact with the Sheriffs on issues affecting them in the execution of their duties. 

Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffrey, who was the keynote speaker, emphasised that said that the sherrifs were important to the justice system.

"Sheriffs basically are the practical arm of civil courts. Courts can make orders, they won't be enforced because that person who enforces them is the sheriff," he told delegates.

"But when it comes to the criminal court, it's the police. In the civil court if you must pay out a debt or you can't afford to pay out and your property has to be attached, and auctioned, it's a sheriff who has to do that. So they are an indispensible arm of the civil court."

Those representing the sheriffs took the opportunity to express concerns about their difficult working conditions and said that they are increasingly facing dangerous situations when carrying out court orders.

"Our members are facing threats when they do their job. We just recently had an incident where a deputy sheriff was shot while trying to do his job," said President of South African Board of Sheriffs, Prince Maluleka.

"So those are serious issues. We also have in some instances where police are not necessarily giving us full support, when we go into some of the most volatile areas. So we also appeal to the police to also assist us."

About the meeting, Deputy Minister Jeffrey said; “It’s very important to interact with sheriffs, hear from them, what the issues are and their problems. So this AGM is important. Sheriffs must feel they are part of the system.”

According to the Department of Justice, Sheriffs play an important role in the criminal justice system as they serve court processes and execute warrants and orders of the court which are issued in terms of the Act and the regulations of the different Courts. They interact with and influence the work of lawyers, court officials, the police, the judgment creditors and debtors.

Early this year, the department appointed 32 Sheriffs country-wide to ensure access to justice and improved service delivery in our justice system. Of the appointed 32 Sheriffs, 19 were Africans (59%), 8 were white (25%), 4 are Coloured (13%) and 1 was Indians (3%).

The total number of permanent Sheriffs currently operating in the country is 304. Of these 304 Sheriffs, 124 are Africans (41%), 121 are Whites (40%), 22 are Indians (7%) and 37 are Coloured (12%).

An awareness campaign to educate communities about the importance of sheriffs has been suggested.