From Academic Kids

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A Bailiff in a United States courtroom

Bailiff (from Late Latin bajulivus, adjectival form of bajulus) is a governor or custodian; cf. Bail), a legal officer to whom some degree of authority, care or jurisdiction is committed. Bailiffs are of various kinds and their offices and duties vary greatly.



The term was first applied in England to the king's officers generally, such as sheriffs, mayors, etc., and more particularly to the chief officer of a hundred. The county within which the sheriff exercises his jurisdiction is still called his bailiwick, while the term bailiff is retained as a title by the chief magistrates of various towns and the keepers of royal castles, as the high bailiff of Westminster, the bailiff of Dover Castle, etc. Under the manorial system, the bailiff, the steward and the reeve were important officers; the bailiff managed the property of the manor and superintended its cultivation (see Walter of Henley, Husbandry, R. Hist. Soc., 1890).

In England, the bailiff of a franchise or liberty is the officer who executes writs and processes, and impanels juries within the franchise. He is appointed by the lord of such franchise (who, in the Sheriffs Act 1887, § 34, is referred to as the bailiff of the franchise).

The bailiff of a sheriff is an under-officer employed by a sheriff within a county for the purpose of executing writs, processes, distraints and arrests. As a sheriff is liable for the acts of his officers acting under his warrant, his bailiffs are annually bound to him in an obligation with sureties for the faithful discharge of their office, and thence are called bound bailiffs. They are also often called bum-bailiffs, or, shortly, bums. The origin of this word is uncertain; the New English Dictionary suggests that it is in allusion to the mode of catching the offender. Special bailiffs are officers appointed by the sheriff at the request of a plaintiff for the purpose of executing a particular process. The appointment of a special bailiff relieves the sheriff from all responsibility until the party is arrested and delivered into the sheriff's actual custody.

By the County Courts Act 1888, it is provided that there shall be one or more high-bailiffs, appointed by the judge and removable by the lord-chancellor; and every person discharging the duties of high-bailiff is empowered to appoint a sufficient number of able and fit persons as bailiffs to assist him, whom he can dismiss at his pleasure. The duty of the high-bailiff is to serve all summonses and orders, and execute all the warrants, precepts and writs issued out of the court. The high bailiff is responsible for all the acts and defaults of himself, and of the bailiffs appointed to assist him, in the same way as a sheriff of a county is responsible for the acts and defaults of himself and his officers. By the same act (§49) bailiffs are answerable for any connivance, omission or neglect to levy any such execution. No action can be brought against a bailiff acting under order of the court without six days' notice (§52). Any warrant to a bailiff to give possession of a tenement justifies him in entering upon the premises named in the warrant, and giving possession, provided the entry be made between the hours of 9 A.M. and 4 P.M. (§ 142). The Law of Distress Amendment Act 1888 enacts that no person may act as a bailiff to levy any distress for rent, unless he is authorized by a county-court judge; to act as a bailiff.

Channel Islands

In the Channel Islands the Bailiff is the first civil officer in each of the two bailiwicks. He is appointed by the Crown, and generally holds office for life. He presides at the Royal Court, and takes the opinions of the jurats; he also presides over the States, and represents the crown in all civil matters. Though he need not necessarily have had legal training, he is usually selected from among those who have held some appointment at the island bar.

United States

In the United States bailiffs, sometimes known as marshals or court officers, are the law enforcement arm of the court. They keep order in the court, serve legal process or other court documents, and take charge of juries when the court is not in session. Also bailiffs will provide general security for the courthouse and its staff. Generally the local sheriff's office provides deputy sheriffs to fill this function. The photograph above is a Alameda County Sheriff's Deputy assigned to the Bailiff/Marshal division.

Scotland and France

The Scottish form of this post is the Bailie, and the French form is Bailli.

Under the ancien régime in France, the bailli was the king's representative in the bailliage (bailiwick), charged with the application of justice and control of the administration.


In Quebec bailiffs are responsible for the service of legal process. They receive a special training and may have a law fr:Bailli wa:Bayî


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