Do you need help with a legal case

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

If you have a problem that you need help with, you may need legal advice to resolve it. You can get help from a legal adviser who specialises in your problem such as a solicitor, or other organisations may be able to help you. Using a solicitor usually involves some expense but you may be eligible for help with legal costs.

This page gives an overview of the types of legal support available to go to court, where to get advice and some of the pitfalls if you take legal action with help.

Who else can help you

If you need legal help or advice to sort out a problem, it's not always necessary to consult a legal adviser. You may be able to deal with the problem yourself or with help from your local advice centre. This could be free help from your local Citizens Advice Bureau, a housing advice centre or a law centre near you. Some advice centres, such as law centres, are staffed by solicitors and other specialist caseworkers, and can offer free legal advice.

Even if you do need professional legal advice, getting help from your local advice centre may be a good place to start. An adviser can help you decide whether a solicitor or another legal adviser is needed. They may also be able to refer you for further specialist help. This may include:

  • help from a specialist organisation

  • free legal advice, for example from your trade union

  • help with your court case.

You may also be able to get legal advice from professionals such as accountants or organisations such as trade unions and motoring organisations.

Finding the right solicitor

If you need a legal adviser, you should choose one who has experience in the appropriate area of law. You may also want to check that the solicitor takes on cases funded by legal aid, as not all firms offer that. You can find a solicitor on the Law Society of Scotland website. You don’t have to know what firm you want to use. You can search by locality and topic. 

With some problems, it can be quicker, cheaper and less stressful to use alternative dispute resolution such as mediation, arbitration or an ombudsman scheme.

For consumer cases, there are special schemes available to deal with traders out of court.

If you decide you want to take action that leads to having to go to court, it could be helpful to discuss what help you might be able to get from a lay representative. You should be aware of the possible problems you might encounter if you want to take a case to court without any legal help. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can discuss these issues with you.

You might decide that you're going to take a case to court by yourself. Here are some of the reasons why you might take this course of action:

  • you were told your case has no merit so you can’t get legal aid

  • no one was able to be your lay representative

  • you have an in-court adviser service in your area which is very helpful

  • your trade union is prepared to give you some help but can’t represent you.

Check if the person you're taking action against can pay you what you're claiming. If they can't pay because they have financial difficulties, you have to consider if there's any point in incurring costs by going to court.

Basic information about going to the sheriff court in a disputed case

If you're unable or unwilling to have representation and the person you're taking action against disputes your claim, you might have to appear in court. It's up to the sheriff under the simple procedure to decide if a court hearing is required.

If you go to court without representation, you're known as the party litigant.

Before you go ahead, here are some extra points that you might want to consider if the case ends up at a court hearing:

  • cross-examining witnesses - you'll have to know how to do this

  • citing witnesses requires a person to apply to court to confirm they can afford to pay the witnesses fees - called 'caution' (pronounced KAYSHUN)

  • the extra expense of having to use messengers-at-arms to serve documents.

Once you're in the court, it'll be very important to ask a question if you haven’t understood something. If it relates to action you're meant to take and you don’t do it because you didn’t understand that you had to, there could be serious consequences.

Problems when you're not legally trained

Even if you've prepared your case carefully, you could still encounter the following problems:

  • some of the procedures that you have to follow in a court hearing may not be immediately obvious

  • orders from the court have to be followed and may be communicated to you in legal jargon

  • evidence may have to be presented and explored but you'll need evidence that proves a legal point - for example, if the receipt for a piece of work isn't dated adequately but the work did get done, this may be irrelevant if you make a point about the date not being correct

  • developing skills to cross examine witnesses - although a sheriff is directed to provide support to a party litigant, they can't tell you what to say

  • understanding the legal basis for the case.

Appeals against a final court decision

If you don’t agree with the decision made by the court, you can appeal on a point of law. Appeals have a legal focus and carry higher risks than the original action. Therefore you should strongly consider seeking specialist or legal advice before making an appeal.

An appeal can be made to the Sheriff Appeal Court within four weeks of the decision form being sent.

A fee is payable to register the appeal. The help of a solicitor is usually essential and subsequent costs could be high. Legal aid is available for an appeal but a solicitor may be reluctant to get involved at this stage if they weren’t involved from the beginning of the claim.