The Tipstaff has two different meanings, both somewhat related.
The office of the Tipstaff is thought to be created in the 14th century. One of the earliest records of the Tipstaff was mentioned in 1570: “The Knight Marshall with all hys tippe staues”. It is a position of both law enforcement and ceremonial duties.
The name originates from the early law enforcements officers who would apprehend the person intended for arrest by the enforcing, if necessary, their duty with a tipped staff or stave. The staff was made of wood or metal or both, topped with a crown. The crown, which unscrewed, was removed to reveal a warrant of arrest inside the hollow staff. Some staffs were definitely a means of protection and this is where the present day policeman’s truncheon originates. The Tipstaff is the only person authorized to make an arrest within the precincts of the Royal Courts of Justice.
Examples remain at the Royal Courts of Justice and the Metropolitan Police museum in London and vary depending on the type and rank of officer. These tipstaves were first carried in the late 1700s and early 1800s. When detectives (in plain clothes) were first authorized the tipstaves issued to plain clothes officers from 1867 were re-issued in 1870 engraved "Metropolitan Police officer in plain clothes".
The staff kept at the Royal Courts of Justice is now only used on ceremonial occasions. It is some 12 inches in length and made of ebony decorated with a silver crown and three bands of silver engraved with, at the top, the Royal Arms, around the middle is inscribed “AMOS HAWKINS, TIPSTAFF COURTS OF CHANCERY” and around the bottom is inscribed “Appointed 14th January, 1884, by the Rt. Hon. The Earl of Selbourne, L.C.” and another coats of Royal Arms. (The date of 14 January 1884, was the date this staff was first used, soon after the Law Courts were opened). Prior to this, each Tipstaff had his own staff, which he retained when he retired.
The Tipstaff is therefore involved in child abduction cases and mental health cases, usually to deliver the child or patient to safety. He is also involved in contempt of court, or other situations where a bench warrant has been issued for the arrest of any person and otherwise as directed by the court.
In child abduction cases, there may be a 'seek and locate' order backed by a bench warrant ordering any person with knowledge of the child to give that information to the Tipstaff or his deputy or assistants. Related orders may require the alleged abductor to hand his passport and other travel documents to the Tipstaff, and order the Tipstaff to take the child and deliver him/her to a designated place. There may also be a 'port alert' executed by the Tipstaff, to help prevent the child being taken abroad.
In the case of children who have been declared a ward of court i.e. cases where the court is acting in loco parentis the Tipstaff has a role in ensuring that those children are delivered to the locations specified by the court.
The Tipstaff heads the Lord Chancellor and judges in a procession at the start of the new legal year preceding them with his staff as a symbol of authority and law enforcement. He also leads the Lord Mayor from his golden coach to the Lord Chief Justice’s Court for the “swearing in” of the Lord Mayor, afterwards attending the Lord Mayor’s Banquet having led the Lord Chancellor into the Guildhall. The black uniform, only worn on ceremonial occasions, is based on that of a Victorian police inspector. He wears a black hat with gold braid trimmings and jacket with silver buttons, a wing collar with a white bow tie and white gloves.