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Do you need help with a legal case

This advice applies to Scotland

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 there are other organisations who may be able to help you. Using a solicitor usually involves some expense but you may be eligible for help with legal costs.

More about using a solicitor
More about 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 what some pitfalls could be 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 actually needed. They may also be able to refer you for further specialist help. This may include:

  • assistance 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 other professionals such as accountants or other organisations such as trade unions and motoring organisations.

Finding the right solicitor

If you do 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 do offer that. You can check this from the Find a solicitor section on the Law Society of Scotland website at www.lawscot.org.uk. You don’t have to know what firm you want to use. You can search by locality and topic. 

With some kinds of problems, it can be quicker, cheaper and less stressful to use Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) such as mediation, arbitration or an ombudsman scheme.

When the case is a consumer case there are special schemes available to deal with traders out of court.

Using ADR to solve a consumer problem

You can check if there is an ombudsman scheme for your problem.

More about ombudsman schemes

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.

More about lay representation

You might decide that you are 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 are taking action against can pay you what you are claiming. If they cannot pay because they have financial difficulties you have to consider if there is there any point in incurring costs by going to court.

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

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

When you go to court without representation you are known as the party litigant.

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

  • cross-examining witnesses – you will 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 are in the court it will be very important to ask a question if you haven’t understood something. If it relates to action you are meant to take and you don’t do it because you didn’t understand that you had to do it there still could be serious consequences.

Problems when you are not legally trained

When you prepare your case even if you have done this carefully the following could still be problems you encounter:

  • 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 will need evidence that proves a legal point – for example, if the receipt for a piece of work is not dated adequately but the work did get done if you make a point about the date not being correct this may be irrelevant to the legal debate about your claim
  • developing skills to cross examine witnesses – although a sheriff is directed to provide support to a party litigant, they cannot 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 4 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.

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