Who's who at court
This content applies to Scotland only.
Housing laws vary between Scotland and England. Get advice relating to England
This page explains who's who in sheriff courts, how to identify them and who'll be involved in your case.
Have a look at the civil court scenario on the Minitrial website - this shows you who everyone is in the court room, and where they sit.
If your case is being dealt with in the sheriff court, the judge is called a 'sheriff'. Sheriffs are senior lawyers who sit at the head of the court (known as the 'bench') and make decisions on the cases brought before them.
Sheriff clerks are court officials who are in charge of the administration and running of all cases being dealt with in sheriff courts across Scotland. They make sure everything goes smoothly and are responsible for recording all the official documents and evidence for your case. They also make sure that the court is run according to the appropriate court rules and record decisions that are made in each case.
Sheriff clerks sit in court at a desk in front of the sheriff (the sheriff is usually higher on a 'bench') and they usually wear black robes. Because of this, it's easy to confuse them with the lawyers. Remember that the sheriff clerk sits in front of the sheriff whereas the lawyers sit at either side. That's probably the easiest way to tell them apart.
Every court has a sheriff clerks' office where all the court papers are processed and all the court timetables are set. All the papers for your case will be held together in a file called a 'process'.
In smaller courts, there may be only one sheriff clerk. In larger courts, there may be more than one; usually a 'principal' who is supported by one or more 'deputes'. There may also be some other support staff who help with administration in the sheriff clerks office.
If you've got any questions about court procedure or what's happening with your case you can contact the sheriff clerk in your local sheriff court. They can't give you legal advice but they can tell you what the rules are and give you information about the court.
Other court staff
Lots of other people are employed by the courts to make sure that court business is dealt with smoothly. They include:
- security guards and doormen
- library staff
- canteen staff
- people working in the various offices in the court
- court officers (who bring the sheriff to and from the courtroom).
They are there to help you so if you're not sure about something, ask a member of staff in the court. If they can't help you, they should be able to point you in the right direction of someone who can.
The Court Users' Charter explains what you can expect from staff in the court. You can download the charter by visiting the Scottish Court Service website.
Solicitors and other lawyers
Solicitors and other lawyers appear in court on a regular basis and you'll see lots of them at court. They sit at opposite sides of the desk in front of the sheriff and the sheriff clerk. They usually wear suits when they're walking about and they wear black gowns when they're appearing in front of the sheriff in a case.
You opponent may or may not be in court, depending on what your case is about. If your opponent is your landlord, they'll probably have a solicitor representing them and your landlord won't necessarily be there in person. If your landlord is the council or a housing association, they may send a representative, as well as a solicitor, to court on the day.
You won't have to speak to your opponent on the day so don't worry about that. However, if you're representing yourself you may have to stand up and speak to the sheriff in front of your opponent. If you're nervous or worried about this then remember that you can take someone to court with you for moral support if you want to.
People from other cases
Sheriff courts are busy places and there might be lots of other people in the courtroom on the same day as you. Some of these people will be waiting for their case to be heard - just like you are. They'll probably be more worried about their own cases and won't be interested in what you're saying or what's happened to you so try not to feel intimidated if the court is very busy.
Everyone just has to wait their turn and, as cases are dealt with, people will gradually leave the courtroom.
Will there be a jury?
No. If your case is about housing, there won't be a jury. Juries are mainly used in serious criminal law cases.
If your case is about housing and it's in the sheriff court, it's unlikely that you'll need any witnesses.