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What happens during the hearing?

This page gives you an outline of what will actually happen when your case calls in court for a detailed hearing or 'proof'. Before you go to court, make sure you know whether it's for a first hearing or a full, detailed hearing. Your legal representative or court staff in the court where the case is calling will be able to confirm what kind of hearing it is.

Legal jargon

You'll come across lots of legal words and phrases during court hearings. You can have a look at our jargonbuster to familiarise yourself with the main words and phrases you'll come across.

Will my case get to the full hearing stage?

It might, although it's important to be aware that most civil court cases either settle before they get to court or a decision is made at the first hearing stage (for example, most court orders for eviction are granted at the first hearing stage).

Your case will only get to the full hearing (or 'proof') stage if:

  • the defender has lodged a defence in the case
  • the first hearing has already taken place and
  • there are still outstanding arguments between you and your opponent.

If your case gets to the stage of a full hearing, this page outlines what'll happen at that hearing. Bear in mind that this page only gives general information so that you'll have an idea. What happens on the day might vary from this.

What kind of hearing is it?

There are several different stages in civil court cases and this can be confusing. It's very important that you know what stage your case is at and what the purpose of the hearing is, especially if you're representing yourself in court. If a solicitor is representing you, they'll be able to give you more information.

Most eviction cases will be dealt with at the first hearing stage but, if there are further arguments to be made in the case, it might go onto the full hearing or 'proof' stage.

Calling the case

When it's time for your case to be heard by the court, the sheriff clerk will call out the name of the case and the hearing will start. This will happen whether it's a first hearing or proof.

If you're representing yourself, you'll have to go to the front of the court when your case is called. The general rule is that the person who took the case to court will stand to the left hand side of the sheriff and the person defending the case will stand to the right. However, ask the sheriff clerk where to stand if you're not sure.

If a lay representative (in other words, someone who you've authorised to represent you but who isn't a solicitor - an adviser, for example) is speaking on your behalf, they'll have to give the sheriff a letter from you saying that you're happy for them to represent you.

If a solicitor is representing you they'll step forward when your case is called.

Introducing yourself

Both parties in the case then have to introduce themselves. Again, this will happen whether it's a first hearing or proof. If you've got a solicitor or lay representative, they'll have to explain that they're speaking on your behalf. Remember that a lay representative will need a letter from you saying that it's okay for them to speak on your behalf and they can only represent you in certain types of case and at certain stages. Have a look at our pages on small claims procedure, summary cause procedure and ordinary cause procedure to work out what applies in your case.

What should I call the sheriff?

If you're representing yourself you just have to say your name, and whether you're the pursuer or defender. When you're speaking to the sheriff, call them either 'My Lady' or 'My Lord'. This applies to any case at any stage.

Telling your side of the story

If you're the pursuer

If you're the pursuer in the case, you'll be first to speak. This is your chance to tell the sheriff your side of the story and your opponent isn't allowed to interrupt you. If it's a full hearing (or 'proof') then the sheriff will ask you to take an oath to tell the truth.

Once you've finished, your opponent and the sheriff will ask you questions, if they have any.

Then you'll be able to call any witnesses you may have into the court. Each witness will also be asked to take an oath to tell the truth. You'll be able to ask them questions to help your case. Think very carefully about the questions you're going to ask before the court day as asking the wrong questions can really harm your case. Write down the questions you wish to ask each witness as it's easy to forget what you have asked or want to ask. You can also take notes on what each witness said as, again, it's very difficult to remember all that was said, especially if there are several witnesses.

Then your opponent and the sheriff will have a chance to ask your witnesses any questions they may have.

If you're the defender

If you're the defender in the case, the pursuer gets the chance to speak before you do. You must listen to what the pursuer has to say without interrupting. You mustn't interrupt even if you don't agree with something that's being said or you think that it's wrong. You'll get a chance to ask questions when they're finished and you'll also get a chance to have your say separately. Write down anything you don't agree with so that you can question the pursuer or any witness on it when you are told you can do so.

Once the pursuer has finished speaking, the sheriff will tell you when you can ask questions. The sheriff will also ask the pursuer any questions they may have at this point.

If the pursuer has any witnesses, they will be next. The pursuer will ask the witnesses questions first of all. Again, you mustn't interrupt. You'll get a chance to ask the witness questions when the sheriff tells you.

Once all the pursuer's witnesses have been heard, the sheriff will tell you when it's your turn to speak. You'll also be put on oath to tell the truth. This is your turn to tell your side of the story and the pursuer mustn't interrupt you. They will be able to ask you questions after you've finished speaking, as will the sheriff.

If you have any witnesses, you'll then be able to take them into court and after the sheriff has put them on oath to tell the truth, you can ask them questions to help your case. Think very carefully about the questions you're going to ask before the court day as asking the wrong questions can really harm your case. After you've finished, the pursuer and the sheriff will have a chance to ask your witnesses any questions they may have.

Rounding up the case

When both you and your opponent have had their say and all the evidence and witnesses have been presented to the court, you'll get a chance to make a final statement about the case to the sheriff. This should be a summary of the main points you are making and what you're asking the sheriff to do (for example, give you time to pay back your rent arrears). This will happen in a full hearing (or 'proof') but not a first hearing.

What will the decision be?

The sheriff can make one of several decisions in your case. Our page on court decisions explains what they are, what effect they can have on you and what you can do about it, if anything.

Further information

If you're still not sure what to expect, get in touch with the sheriff clerk's office in the court that's dealing with your case. You can find contact details for all the sheriff courts in Scotland by visiting the Scottish Court Service website. They'll be able to tell you how things work in that particular court. Although the court rules are the same across Scotland, each court works differently and some may be less formal, or less busy, than others.

Speak to a Shelter Scotland adviser

Call Shelter Scotland's free housing advice helpline

0808 800 4444*
9am-5pm, Monday to Friday

Email an adviser

You can also email a housing adviser. We aim to respond within three working days.

*Our advice line is free to call from landlines and all six of the main UK mobile networks, Virgin, Orange, 3, T-mobile, Vodafone and O2, but charges may apply from any other network


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