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The Scottish Land Court

If you have an agricultural or crofting tenancy and are in dispute with your landlord over any aspect of the tenancy, you can take your case to the Scottish Land Court to be resolved. In some situations, you may be able to resolve the dispute through arbitration

The Scottish Land Court website has lots more information on what the court does and offers application forms to download and guidance on how to apply.

What is the Land Court?

The Scottish Land Court is a court of law which has authority to resolve a range of disputes in agriculture and crofting, including disputes between landlords and tenants. The court is based in Edinburgh, but holds hearings throughout Scotland.

The court has a Chairman, who has the same status as a Court of Session judge, and three members, who are not lawyers but are experts in dealing with agricultural and crofting matters.

What kind of disputes can the Land Court resolve?

The Land Court can resolve disputes over:

  • whether or not an agricultural tenancy exists
  • whether or not land is a croft
  • the terms and conditions of your tenancy
  • rent levels
  • repairs and improvements
  • how you use the land
  • ending your tenancy.

The Land Court can't deal with problems to do with:

  • land ownership
  • some aspects of succession (who will inherit the croft)
  • boundary disputes (unless the dispute is between crofters)
  • common grazing land for crofters
  • decrofting areas of croft land.

These issues must be dealt with by the sheriff court in your area or the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

The following sections explain the situations where the Land Court can resolve disputes for you:

If you're not sure whether the land court can help settle your dispute, you can contact the court to discuss your case. Contact details can be found on the Land Court website.

Who can apply to the land court?

Both you and your landlord can apply to the land court to have disputes settled, either independently or jointly.

The person who applies to the court is known as the 'applicant'. The person the applicant has the dispute with is known as the 'respondent'.

Will I need a solicitor?

It's not necessary to have a solicitor to take a case to the Land Court, but getting legal advice is likely to increase your chances of a successful outcome. A solicitor can:

  • help you decide whether your case is better resolved in court or by arbitration (see 'are there any alternatives to going to the Land Court' below)
  • fill in court forms for you, or help you do so yourself
  • represent you at the hearing and explain the outcome, and any implications, to you clearly
  • help you to appeal against the court's decision if you feel it is wrong or unfair.

Use the Crofting Law Group or Law Society of Scotland website to find a solicitor who specialises in agricultural law.

How does it work?

The Land Court aims to resolve disputes as simply and fairly as possible, without unnecessary expense or formality. Depending on the nature of the dispute, your case will be decided either by the divisional court (a single court member and a legal assessor), or by the full court (the chairman and two court members). Where possible, disputes are resolved in writing, to save you having to go to court. If the dispute is very important, the court may deal with it more formally, for example by arranging a hearing before the full court.

How do I apply?

If you want the Land Court to resolve a dispute, you need to make an application. You can download application forms for various different situations from the Land Court website - get in touch with the court if you're not sure which to use. You can fill in the form yourself or ask your solicitor to complete it on your behalf. Make sure you explain clearly what the dispute is about and include any relevant plans, maps, documents or business books. You'll have to pay a fee when you make your application - the cost will depend on the nature of your dispute, and you can find the fees listed on the Land Court website.

What happens after I apply?

The court staff will look at your application and decide how best to deal with your case. They will then send you written instructions to guide you through the proceedings.

The court staff will contact your landlord and any other parties involved (for example, your landlord's solicitor) and ask for their side of the story. They may ask you and/or your landlord to supply further details about the case, until they have enough information either to make a written decision (see 'what does a written decision consist of' below) or to decide that it will be necessary to hold a hearing.

What is a hearing?

If the court decides to hold a hearing, you and your landlord and any witnesses will be summoned to appear before the court to give evidence in person. The hearing will probably be held somewhere near your land, so that court members can carry out an inspection if necessary. Hearings are open to the public, but witnesses will not be allowed into the courtroom until they've given their evidence.

Do I have to attend the hearing?

If you're summoned to a hearing - either as an applicant or a respondent - it's very important that you attend. Otherwise you may lose the case because you didn't attend.

How do I prepare for a hearing?

You should be sent an order of court asking you to appear. This should give you about a month's notice to prepare. Talk to a solicitor - they can help you prepare your case and represent you in court at the hearing, although you can represent yourself if you prefer.

What happens at a hearing?

At the hearing, you and your landlord (or your representatives) will both get a chance to put forward your side of the story. You'll then be given the opportunity to ask each other questions and to question any witnesses. It's really important to think before the hearing about what you want to say and any questions you want to ask. Being prepared can help the court understand your position. If you are representing yourself, try to stick to the facts and don't get into an argument with your landlord as the court won't be impressed by that.

Once the hearing is over, the court considers all the evidence and issues a written decision within six weeks. This will be sent to all parties by recorded delivery.

What does a written decision consist of?

A written decision usually consists of an 'order' and a 'note'. The order sets out the court's decision and what you and/or your landlord need to do. For example, the court may:

  • grant an interdict, which means that you or your landlord will be prevented from doing something
  • give you or your landlord an order to pay a sum of money or carry out repairs
  • order you or your landlord to give back a piece of land to the other party
  • end your tenancy and grant an order of ejection, which means you will have to leave the land.

The note sets out the evidence and shows how and why the court came to that decision. If you do not understand anything in the order, your solicitor will be able to explain it to you and advise you what to do next.

It's very important that you do what the order says. If you or your landlord don't comply with an order issued by the court, the other party can go back to the court and ask for the order to be enforced. Talk to your solicitor if you're in this situation.

What if I'm not happy with the Land Court's decision?

If you don't agree with the court's decision, you may be able to lodge an appeal or get a rehearing, if you have the grounds to do so. This applies whether you applied to the court in the first place or are defending the case.

Appealing the court's decision

If you decide to lodge an appeal, you must do so within 28 days of the written decision. Your solicitor can help you work out whether you have a case.

If the divisional court heard your case, you can appeal to the full court. If the full court heard your case, you can appeal to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, provided that:

  • you are appealing over a point of law as opposed to disputing some of the facts, and
  • your case at the Land Court wasn't an appeal over an arbitration decision (see 'are there any alternatives to the land court' below).

The Court of Session's decision is final.

Getting a rehearing

You can ask the Land Court for a rehearing within three months of the decision if:

  • you have new evidence to put forward and you have a good reason for not producing this evidence earlier, or
  • you believe the first hearing was based on incorrect or false evidence, or
  • circumstances have changed and the order is no longer relevant to your situation.

How much does it cost to go to the Land Court?

The Land Court aims to resolve disputes as inexpensively as possible. However, you may have to pay:

  • court fees (you can find these listed on the Land Court website)
  • solicitor's fees (you can ask your solicitor to give you a quote in advance)
  • expenses, if you lose your case. You might also have to pay your landlord's expenses.

Can I get help with legal costs?

Your local Citizens Advice may be able to help you access legal advice for free. For example, they may have a list of solicitors in your area who offer an initial free interview or run free advice surgeries. In addition, if you're on a low income or claiming benefits, you may be entitled to legal aid to cover some, or all, of the costs.

Are there any alternatives to going to the Land Court?

In many situations, you and your landlord can agree to take the case to an independent arbiter instead, preferably one who uses the Scottish Arbitration Code. An arbiter (or, in some cases, two arbiters and an overman) will examine your case and resolve it as fairly as possible.

There are some disputes that can't be resolved through arbitration. These include:

  • problems concerning succession
  • some disputes concerning improvements to the land.

Your solicitor will be able to help you decide whether you should apply to the land court or seek arbitration.

What if I'm not happy with the arbiter's decision?

In this case, you may be able to appeal to the land court, but you must lodge your appeal within 28 days. The Land Court's decision on the matter will be final.

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