Powers of the sheriff in civil legal action below the value of £5,000

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

The rules of the court in civil legal action worth up to £5,000 come from the simple procedure. Simple procedure rules allow the sheriff to take the lead in trying to resolve the dispute that has been brought to court. More about simple procedure.

What actions can the sheriff take

Whether you have raised a legal claim under simple procedure or, you’re trying to defend a claim against you, the sheriff can take many actions or decisions including to:

  • refer both parties for alternative dispute resolution

  • agree to the application process being on paper 

  • organise a case management discussion

  • arrange a hearing

  • end the claim without either party gaining anything

  • decide the outcome of the case without a hearing so you won’t have had a chance to talk in court.

The sheriff can also:

  • move the case to a court further away from where you live

  • order you to do something you don’t want to do - for example, if you’re the seller, they may order you to replace a faulty item

  • reset the timing of the case from the rules of court

  • either decide or dismiss part of the case because the sheriff thinks it’s incompetent - for example, a high claim for court expenses.

When both parties don’t have legal representatives, the sheriff must ensure they’re not disadvantaged because of their lack of legal knowledge or guidance.

The sheriff will also decide whether to have a hearing and what sort of hearing it should be.

When one party has legal representation it is possible that the other party may have difficulty in putting forward their case clearly if legal arguments are presented but difficult to understand.

The sheriff has discretion to try to ensure that someone who is not legally represented isn’t disadvantaged.

What to do if you are unhappy with the outcome of a claim

If you’re unhappy with what has happened in the claim you should seek advice if you don’t understand what has happened and why. You can get help from a Citizens Advice Bureau or you can seek legal advice.

If you disagree with the outcome you can appeal against it to the Sheriff Appeal Court but only on a point of law. It may be very difficult to identify a point of law upon which you can appeal.

More about simple procedure

How to use simple procedure

Costs of civil court action using the simple procedure

Help with the simple procedure claim form

What happens if you're taken to court for money you owe