How to behave and what to wear
This content applies to Scotland only.
Housing laws vary between Scotland and England. Get advice relating to England
Courtrooms are formal places and there are certain things that are, and aren't, acceptable. This page gives you some hints and tips so that you know what to expect.
What should I wear?
There are no hard and fast rules about what you should wear to go to court and you won't get chucked out if you're not wearing a suit. However, courtrooms are formal places of law and it creates a good impression if you turn up dressed smartly and if your appearance is neat and tidy. You should try to dress smartly even if a solicitor or someone else is representing you.
What do lawyers wear?
Lawyers, sheriffs and other court officials (such as the sheriff clerk) will be wearing suits with robes on top. Solicitors don't wear wigs in the sheriff court, although the sheriff might.
Where should I sit?
This depends on:
- what your case is about
- whether or not anyone is representing you
- the layout of the courtroom you're in.
If a solicitor is representing you and it's a civil law case, you'll probably have to sit in the public seating area. Your solicitor may need to talk to you before, during or after your case is being heard so make sure you go up to them before the case starts and tell them where you're sitting so they know where to find you.
If you're representing yourself, you'll have to stand in front of the sheriff to let them hear your arguments in the case. However, there will probably be lots of cases being dealt with so it's likely you'll have to wait in the public gallery until you're 'called' to speak before the sheriff. Every court will have a different layout so, when you go into the courtroom, explain to a court official that you're representing yourself and ask where you should sit. Don't be afraid to ask any court official to explain the layout of the court or what to expect once the court proceedings begin. They are there to help you where they can. You might find the court scene illustrations from minitrial helpful, especially as they explain what each person in the court does.
Courts (especially sheriff courts) have to get through lots of cases each day, so you might have to wait a while until your case is called.
What if I'm disabled?
Some courtrooms will have facilities for you but others won't. It's best to contact the court in advance to see what facilities they have and to make special arrangements if you need them. You can find contact details for all sheriff courts in Scotland on the Scottish Court Service website.
Some courts are old buildings (although others are modern) and the acoustics aren't always brilliant. If you have difficulty with your hearing or sight, make sure you sit in a place where you can clearly see or hear what's going on. Some courts may have a hearing aid enabling facility but you should check in advance. If you have a carer or support worker, they can come to court with you, either for moral support or to help you get around.
Courts (especially sheriff courts) have to get through lots of cases each day. You might have to wait a while until your case is dealt with by the court, so make sure you get a comfy seat.
No one has the right to discriminate against you if you're disabled. Our section on disability discrimination explains more.
What happens when the judge or sheriff comes in?
When the judge or sheriff enters the courtroom, this means that official court business is starting.
Everyone in the courtroom, including you, should stand up when the sheriff or judge comes in to the courtroom - it's a mark of respect. Court staff will usually let you know when to stand by shouting out 'all rise' or something similar.
You should also stand up when the judge or sheriff leaves the court.
What happens during the hearing?
For advice on this, have a look at our page called what happens during the hearing?
Can I speak to the judge or sheriff?
If your case is in the sheriff court, you should only speak directly to the sheriff if you're representing yourself. You'll have to wait your turn and the sheriff will tell you when they want to hear what you have to say. You'll get an opportunity to have your say so don't butt in because that won't go down well with the sheriff.
If someone else is representing you, they will speak to the sheriff on your behalf and you mustn't interrupt or say anything to the sheriff. This applies even if you get angry or you don't agree with something that's said or a decision that's made.
If you don't agree with what is decided, you might be able to appeal but you must not, in any circumstances, shout out or speak to the sheriff. This will only get you into trouble.
If you don't understand what's happening or what's been decided, don't worry - your solicitor or representative will explain it to you later.
What should I call the sheriff?
If you're representing yourself and you have to speak directly to the sheriff, you should call them 'My Lord' or 'My Lady'.
Can I ask questions?
It depends. If you have a solicitor representing you, you can ask them as many questions as you like before and after your case is being dealt with but not during the hearing.
If you're representing yourself, the sheriff might ask you questions but you shouldn't ask your opponent questions. If you don't understand what's happening at the time, you can ask the sheriff clerk for clarification either during or after your case has been heard. Don't ask the sheriff.
How will I know what's been decided?
If you're representing yourself and you're not sure what's been decided, you can ask the sheriff clerk to clarify what's happened.
If a solicitor is representing you, they will either come and find you when they're finished in court (they may have other cases to deal with that day) or they'll phone or write to you later to let you know what's happened.
Try not to worry if you don't understand what the decision is when you hear it in court - lots of people don't.
What if I don't understand something?
You'll come across lots of legal words and phrases when going through the court process. Many court decisions are hard to understand as well because they're not always in plain English. Our jargonbuster can help you understand the legal terms used, and our page on court decisions explains some of the legal language you'll come across in housing cases.
If you don't understand something when you're at court, ask one of the court officials or your solicitor. However, if there's a case being heard, you'll have to wait until the end to ask your question. If you have a solicitor, they'll explain everything to you later anyway.
How long will I be at court for?
Courts (especially sheriff courts) are very busy places and they deal with lots of cases every day. Depending on what stage your case is at, it might only take a few minutes to deal with it. That can be a real anti-climax, especially if you're worried about the case or you've been waiting all morning for it to be dealt with.
If a solicitor is representing you, they'll be able to tell you more.
If you're representing yourself, ask one of the court officials what's on the agenda that day and how long it's likely to take.
The Court Users' Charter
The Scottish Court Service has produced a very useful guide called the Court Users' Charter. It contains some helpful information on the standards you can expect when you come into contact with courts in Scotland including:
- if your case is in court
- what to expect from any court officials you come across
- what to expect if you phone the court
- if you've been a victim of crime
- if you're a witness giving evidence in a case
- if you've been accused of a crime and are standing trial, or
- if you're going along to support someone
- how long you'll have to wait for your case to be dealt with in court.
The charter also includes information on:
- how you can help to make sure things go smoothly at court
- how to complain if you're not happy with something
- where to find out more about how courts in Scotland are run.