2899261911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 3 — BailiffJean Paul Hippolyte Emmanuel Adhémar Esmein

BAILIFF and BAILIE (from Late Lat. bajulivus, adjectival form of bajulus, 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, &c., 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, &c. 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).

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 (§54). 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.

In the Channel Islands the bailiff is the first civil officer in each island. 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.

In the United States the word bailiff has no special significance. It is sometimes applied to the officer who takes charge of juries and waits upon the court. The officer who corresponds to the English sheriff’s bailiff is termed a deputy or under-sheriff.

Bailie.—In Scotland the word bailiff has taken the form of “bailie,” signifying a superior officer or magistrate of a municipal corporation. Bailies, by virtue of their office, are invested with certain judicial and administrative powers within the burgh for which they are appointed. They sit as police-court magistrates, being assisted usually by a paid legal adviser, called an “assessor,” and, in the larger burghs, act as a licensing court. It is usually said that a bailie is analogous to the English alderman, but this is only in so far as he is a person of superior dignity in the council, for, unlike an alderman, he continues to sit for the ward for which he has been elected after selection as a bailie. He is always appointed from within the council, and his term of office is only that of an ordinary councillor, that is, for not more than three years. Bailie to give sasine was the person who appeared for the superior at the ceremony of giving sasine. This ceremony was abolished in 1845. The Bailie of Holyrood, or Bailie of the Abbey, was the official who had jurisdiction in all civil debts contracted within the precincts of the sanctuary (q.v.).  (T. A. I.) 

Bailli.—In France the bailiff (bailli), or seneschal in feudal days, was the principal officer of any noble importance. He it was who held the feudal court of assizes when the lord was not present himself. A great noble often also had a prévôté, where small matters were settled, and the preparatory steps taken relative to the more important cases reserved for the assizes. Among the great officers of the crown of France a grand-seneschal formerly figured until the reign of Philip Augustus, when the last holder of the office was not replaced by a successor. It is also under Philip Augustus that local bailiffs first make a definite appearance. In the ordinance of 1190, by which the king, about to set forth on the crusade, arranged for the administration of the kingdom during his absence, they figure as part of a general system. Probably the first royal bailiffs or seneschals were the seigniorial bailiffs of certain great fiefs that had been reunited to the crown, their functions still continuing after the annexation. Their essential function was at first the surveillance of the royal provosts (prévôts), who until then had had the sole administration of the various parts of the domain. They concentrated in their own hands the produce of the provostships, and they organized and led the men who by feudal rules owed military service to the king. They had also judicial functions, which, at first narrowly restricted in application, became much enlarged as time went on, and they held periodical assizes in the principal centres of their districts. When the right of appeal was instituted, it was they who heard the appeals from sentences pronounced by inferior royal judges and by the seigniorial justices. Royal cases, and cases in which a noble was defendant, were also reserved for them. The royal bailli or seneschal (no real difference existed between the two offices, the names merely changing according to the district), was for long the king’s principal representative in the provinces, and the bailliage or the sénéchaussée was then as important administratively as judicially. But the political power of the bailiffs was greatly lessened when the provincial governors were created. They had already lost their financial powers, and their judicial functions now passed from them to their lieutenants.

By his origin the bailiff had a military character; he was an officer of the “short robe” and not of the “long robe,” which in those days was no obstacle to his being well versed in precedents. But when, under the influence of Roman and canon law, the legal procedure of the civil courts became learned, the bailiff often availed himself of a right granted him by ancient public law: that of delegating the exercise of his functions to whomsoever he thought fit. He delegated his judicial functions to lieutenants, whom he selected and discharged at will. But as this delegation became habitual, the position of the lieutenants was strengthened; in the 16th century they became royal officers by title, and even dispossessed the bailiffs of their judiciary prerogatives. The tribunal of the bailliage or sénéchaussée underwent yet another transformation, becoming a stationary court of justice, the seat of which was fixed at the chief town. During the 15th and 16th centuries ambulatory assizes diminished in both frequency and importance. In the 17th and 18th centuries they were no more than a survival, the lieutenant of such a bailliage having preserved the right to hold one assize each year at a certain locality in his district. The ancient bailiff or bailli d'épée still existed, however; the judgments in the tribunal of the bailliage were delivered in his name, and he was responsible for their execution. So long as the military service of the ban and arrière ban, due to the king from all fief-holders, was maintained (and it was still in force at the end of the 17th century), it was the bailiffs who organized it. Finally the bailliage became in principle the electoral district for the states-general, the unit represented therein by its three estates. The justiciary nobles retained their judges, often called bailiffs, until the Revolution. These judges, who were competent to decide questions as to the payment of seigniorial dues could not, legally at all events, themselves farm those revenues.

See Dupont Ferrier, Les Officiers royaux des bailliages et sénéchaussées et les institutions monarchiques locales en France à la fin du moyen âge (1902); Armand Brette, Recueil de documents relatifs à la convocation des états-généraux de 1789 (3 vols. 1904) (vol. iii. gives the condition of the bailliages and sénéchaussées in 1789).  (J. P. E.)