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What is a Sheriff (Civil) Search?  – An Ellis & Ellis Explainer

The Sheriff (Civil) offices – Their role and record keeping in a conveyancing context.

The Sheriff’s Office origins lies in Irish pre-independence and English legal antiquity. Originally levelled with the discharge of Crown duties, the (high) sheriff’s functions included the enforcement of court judgments. 

However, in Ireland following the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, the vestigial office of (high) sheriff was abolished, with the supervision and execution of court decrees devolved to the newly established County Registrars. Due to a combination of circumstances only Dublin (City and County) and Cork (City and County) retained the title of sheriff’s office.

Accordingly, every county in Ireland has either a sheriff or registrar whose role it is to seize and sell goods belonging to debtors in the discharge of debt. As part of their duties, the sheriff (civil) and/ or county registrar’s offices must maintain a register of judgments lodged with their offices. It is against these registers that Sheriff (Civil) searches are conducted.

Why should the purchasing solicitor/ conveyancer search the Sheriff (Civil) registers when investigating title in a property/ right/ interest purchase?

Judgments (Debt/ Money) from the District Court, the Circuit Court and the High Court may be registered in Judgment (Debt/ Money) registers or appear as affidavits of judgment in the Registry of Deeds or Judgment Mortgages in the Land Registry. More pertinently, Judgments (Debt/ Money) may also be registered with the Sheriff’s (Civil) Office.

For the purchasing solicitor/ conveyancer a matching entry appearing in the sheriff (Civil) register can alert them to the potential parsing of a judgment into a judgment mortgage against the sale property, and the inconvenience of the premises possibly being saleable only under court supervision.

Note: – Judgments of the Superior Courts (Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court) and of the Circuit Court for a liquidated sum [i.e., judgments which require the payment of a sum of money] are capable of being registered as judgment mortgages. 

Additionally, a decree of the District Court for a liquidated sum is also capable of being registered as a judgment mortgage (Section 24, Courts Act, 1981).

How and what to search for on the Sheriff (Civil) registers?

Ever since the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 came into effect, there has been a broad consensus in the legal profession that there is no requirement to conduct Sheriff’s (Civil) Office searches in relation to the purchase of a tenancy of land unless it was ‘…wholly or partly for the purpose of carrying on a business’. 

In principle, the consequence of the above means that residential freehold title need not be searched against on the Sheriff (Civil) registers.

However, some exceptions to the above include (a) premises that are new builds or (b) lands/ rights/ interests being sold by legal entities/ companies.

Notwithstanding the above, if searches are deemed necessary against these registers, then the purchasing solicitor/ conveyancer needs to consider the following:

Seller Names: In practical terms, a Sheriff (Civil) register search is typically conducted against the names of the individuals (and/ or entities) selling and in conjunction with the exact address of the property/ right/interest being sold.

Purchasers Names: Additionally, when there is an undertaking by the solicitor to protect the interest of a lender/ lending institute where there is a mortgage to be issued, searches may be also conducted against the names of those persons or entities purchasing the property/ right/ interest, but solely in conjunction with their own address (not the sale premises as they have no beneficial interest in the sale property prior to purchase). 

What will the Sheriff (Civil) register search show me?

The Sheriff (Civil) registers record all executable judgments lodged stemming from the High Court, Circuit Courts and District Courts. 

In the High Court such judgments are known as ‘orders of fieri facias or fifa’. In the Circuit Court these judgments are described as ‘execution orders against goods’, and in the District Court they are referred to as ‘Court’s judgments or decrees sent to the Sheriff or County Registrar to enforce’.

Sheriffs’ / Registrars’ certificates disclose entries that are extant, remain unsatisfied and still effecting individuals and/ or legal entities in association with the given premises.

Use a trusted Law Search provider

Given the serious ramifications set out above of either not conducting a search at all, or worse, conducting an inadequate or erroneous Sheriff (Civil) search; it is imperative that purchasing solicitors/ conveyancers use a trusted law search provider such as Ellis & Ellis.

With our blend of a quick and easy-to-use ordering platform at www.ellis.ie , over 130 years of professional know-how, and a quality after-sales experience, we provide clients with a superior searching service. 

For added peace of mind Ellis & Ellis provide Professional Indemnity Cover of €10 million.

Why not join the 1000’s of users who trust Ellis & Ellis to deliver them a competitive edge?

Did you find the above information to be of interest? Why not check out one of our other Ellis & Ellis explainers for some related searches below:


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