This content applies to Scotland only.
Housing laws vary between Scotland and England. Get advice relating to England
If you're thinking about speaking for yourself in court, read this page first to find out if it's possible and, if so, to get some practical hints and tips. If you don't want to get a lawyer, you might be able to get someone else you trust to speak for you.
Can I represent myself in court?
If your court case is about housing law, it'll probably be dealt with in your local sheriff court. If you want to find out more about sheriff courts, have a look at our page on courts in Scotland.
In some cases (for example, if your landlord is trying to evict you) it's a good idea to get a lawyer to represent you in court because the court procedure is quite complicated and appearing in court can be quite a scary experience. However, there's nothing to stop you from standing up and speaking for yourself in court if you can't find a lawyer or if you'd rather do it yourself. If you do represent yourself in court, you'll be called a 'party litigant'.
If your case is more complicated (especially if it's being dealt with under 'summary cause' or 'ordinary cause' procedure) it's probably not a good idea to represent yourself because the rules are more complicated and you may not be able to present your case in the best light. You can find out more about different court procedures in our section on going to court. However, there's nothing to stop you representing yourself if you want to or if you can't find a lawyer.
Bear in mind that if you represent yourself in court without the right knowledge, you could find yourself in a worse situation. As a worst case scenario, you could lose your case. You should always get advice before going to court (see the section called 'get advice first' below to find out where you can get help).
Some hints and tips
If you are thinking about representing yourself, bear in mind that appearing in court can be an intimidating and stressful experience, even if you have a lawyer representing you, so think carefully before deciding if you want to represent yourself!
If your problem is with your landlord or your local council for example, they will probably have a lawyer representing them. Judges and lawyers use technical legal language and, even if they try to explain what's going on, it can be confusing unless you've got legal training and knowledge of the court system. Some of the court procedures used in certain types of cases are difficult to understand and don't have any standard forms you can use so, unless you know what you're doing, it can be tricky to get everything right.
How will I know what to do at court?
Every court has a different system so you should check what happens in your local court before the day (see 'how do I contact my local court?' below).
If you're thinking about representing yourself in court, remember that courts (and sheriff courts in particular) are very busy places. They deal with loads of cases every day and most of them aren't about housing problems. They have to get through lots of court business and most lawyers will be dealing with several cases. If you explain to the court officials that you are representing yourself, they may be helpful and look out for you. However, remember that they're busy and it's your responsibility to find out where to go and to make sure that you're in the right court at the right time. If you're not sure about anything, just ask one of the court officials.
Your case will be 'called' in court. This means that your case is placed in a queue. You'll have to wait your turn (and it could be a long wait!) and not all court officials will actually shout out the name of your case so be careful not to miss your chance to have your say.
How do I contact my local court?
You can contact your local court by going to the Scottish Court Service website. On the same website, you can also try to find out which Sheriff will be deciding your case and when it's on the court agenda by checking the 'rolls of court'.
Get advice first
If you are going to represent yourself in court, it's a good idea to get some guidance from an advice agency near you first. They may have experience of the courts in your area and be able to give you some practical tips. Our Advice Services Directory has details of agencies all over Scotland.
Our section on what happens in court also explains what to expect in the courtroom, including:
- who's who
- what to wear
- how to speak to the judge.
Worried about costs?
If you're thinking about representing yourself because you're worried you won't be able to pay for a lawyer, you might be surprised. You might be able to get legal aid to help with the costs of getting legal advice and representation from a lawyer. Our section on legal costs has more on this, including information about the Scottish Legal Aid system. You can't get legal aid if you're representing yourself.
Can someone else speak for me in court?
You can get an authorised representative (called a 'lay representative') to speak for you in court but only at certain stages of your case. For example, a lay representative could be an adviser from an agency or a support worker. Your representative doesn't have to have legal qualifications but you have to give them permission to speak on your behalf, usually in writing, and prepare your case before it goes to court. Preparation could include getting evidence together and submitting any documents (such as bank statements or your rent book) to the court. If the judge has any doubts about the person speaking on your behalf, they can tell that person to stop speaking.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to get help and/or representation from an in-court advice service.
If your case is very complicated (or gets beyond the 'first calling' stage), you'll have to get a lawyer to represent you.
Where can I find a lawyer?
If you've decided that you don't want to represent yourself in court, or if you need specialised legal advice, you can get in touch with a lawyer by contacting an advice agency, a law centre, the Law Society of Scotland or you could contact your local court to find out if there's an in-court advice service you can use.