Who or What is a Tipstaff?


Image of a Victorian wooden tipstaff with golden crown

The origins of a Tipstaff…

A Tipstaff was originally a long staff made of wood with one end topped with a crown.

The crown could be unscrewed to reveal inside the staff, a warrant appointing the holder of the Tipstaff to their position of authority. Some of the tip staves were almost certainly a means of protection to the officer holding it too.

The office of the Tipstaff was thought to have been created in the 14th century. Even to this day, high ranking police officers have on their epaulettes, an image of crossed Tipstaves within a wreath to denote their authority.

There are currently two Tipstaves in England and Wales. One is an officer of the Royal Borough of Kingston and the other is an officer of the High Court.

The High Court Tipstaff may appoint up to three assistants. Currently there are two assistants. The Tipstaff can call on any constable, bailiff or member of the public to assist him in carrying out his duties.

The Tipstaff has wide ranging powers… They can force entry to a property if necessary and will have a police officer present to prevent a breach of the peace occurring.

They also have certain ceremonial duties. For example, where they head a procession of the Lord Chancellor and Judges at the start of the legal year; preceding the judges with his staff as a symbol of authority and law enforcement.


What is their relevance today?

The area where I have come across the Tipstaff is in the recovery of children; pursuant to court orders made in the High Court and taking them into custody for their protection to a place of safety.

The powers of the Tipstaff allow him to access information from the Department of Social Security and the Ministry of Defence. There are also formal agreements with government departments and amongst others, the NHS and passport office.

The Tipstaff can also get information from airlines where an order is in place seeking the recovery of a child about to arrive in this country, and the Tipstaff requires information to enable him to meet the aeroplane.

Airlines can also be ordered to disclose the name of people travelling with the child and when someone has entered or left the country.

The Tipstaff can also be aided by information obtained from telephone records. Telephone companies, both mobile and landline, can be ordered to trace phone calls. Internet providers can be directed to reveal information about where e-mails are being sent to. This can sometimes help with the recovery of a missing child.

The court can make “location orders” and “collection orders”. The Tipstaff can take possession of travel documents and passports and people that are subject to the order are directed to give information if they have any as to the whereabouts of a child.

Collection orders remain in force for a period of 6 months. If the child has not been found in that time period the orders will lapse. Failure to obey the collection order can result in imprisonment.

Solicitors can be forced to reveal information as to a client’s whereabouts to assist the Tipstaff in a search for a child.


And so, in summary…

So, as you can see, the powers of a Tipstaff are wide ranging and the sanctions at his disposal in executing his duties are immediate and powerful.

The role is pivotal to the High Court as part of its enforcement powers and the Tipstaff has to have strong investigative instincts in the execution of his duties.

So, although the role began in 14th century, it is highly relevant to the execution of orders today.


Post written by Fiona Moffat,
May 2019


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