One of the partners at Jackson Boyd can often be heard telling more junior members of staff that “It pays to raise”. This is in reference to raising a court action in order to secure a higher settlement on behalf of a client. In Personal Injury cases for example, insurance companies often make low offers before litigation as they are relying on an individual accepting that offer as they will wish to avoid going to court.
Over the years we have encountered many clients who, against our advice, have decided to accept a low offer from an insurance company because they do not wish to go to court. Despite advising clients that the risk of a case actually going to court is fairly low, the mere fact that it remains a possibility is often too much for clients to bear. In addition, whilst the majority of cases do settle, some will still require to be heard in court. Therefore it is necessary to consider just what “going to court” will involve for one of our clients in the event that their case does not settle.
The first thing we would advise is that if your case does go to court you will not be alone. A solicitor from Jackson Boyd will be with you to conduct the case on your behalf in front of the Sheriff or Judge.
If your solicitor considers that your case is likely to proceed to a hearing in court then in the weeks leading up to the hearing date your solicitor will be in touch with you to discuss the case in more detail. Your solicitor will advise you of exactly what will happen when you attend at court.
When the “the big day” finally arrives our solicitor will arrange to meet you at court 30 to 45 minutes before the case is due to commence. The reason for meeting this early is to make sure that we are all there in plenty of time and to avoid any delays. The other benefits are to discuss the case and to familiarise yourself with the court so that you will know where to sit before the case starts, where you will sit during the case and where you will stand when giving evidence.
The Scottish court system is a busy one and Glasgow Sheriff Court has famously been labelled as “the busiest court in Europe” so it may not come as a surprise to hear that your case may not be the only one calling on that date. Therefore at 10 o’clock, which is when most cases start, the court will often do a call over. This basically means that the clerk of the court will run through a list of the cases that will be calling in court on that date. The reason for this is to establish what cases have settled, which cases may require to be put off to another date and what cases are prepared and ready to proceed. Your solicitor at Jackson Boyd will advise the court that we are acting on your behalf, confirm to the court that we are ready to proceed and will advise how long the case is likely to take.
Once the call over has been completed, the court will then advise the solicitors and witnesses which case will be proceeding first. After the call over, it may become clear that there are other sheriffs available who could hear the case in another court. Unfortunately there will be situations where it becomes clear that your case may not be heard on that date and as such a further date would be assigned. Your case is likely to take priority when it next calls having already been discharged due to a lack of court time.
If you are the Pursuer in a court action (pursuing a claim against another party) when the case starts you would be seated on the right-hand side of the table directly in front of where the Sheriff sits (to the Sheriff’s left hand). Your solicitor would be seated beside you. At the start of the case your solicitor will confirm to the court that you are the first witness and you will be asked to take your place in the witness box. If you are able to, it is better to stand whilst giving evidence as this will mean that the sheriff will hear your answers more clearly and can write them down. Sheriffs can often become frustrated by having to ask a witness to repeat their answers because they are either mumbling or not speaking loudly enough.
After you take the witness box you will be asked by the Sheriff or Judge to take the oath (or affirm) that your evidence will be truthful. The Hearing will then begin with you being asked questions regarding the particular circumstances of your case. You will then be cross examined by the solicitor for the other side. Cross examination in a sheriff court in Scotland may not be quite as dramatic as you will find on television or in the movies but the aim of it remains to challenge your evidence so that ultimately the court finds in favour of the other party. What has to be borne in mind at all times is that the other solicitor is simply doing their job and very rarely will their approach be personal.
After you have given evidence then the other witnesses in the case will give evidence. If you are pursuing the case you can remain in court throughout your evidence and would normally remain seated beside your solicitor. It is very important however that you remain silent when other witnesses are giving evidence. It is not appropriate to challenge or disagree with the witnesses’ evidence and indeed this could have a negative impact on your case.
Once all of the witnesses have given evidence the solicitors for both parties will make submissions to the court. Submissions are effectively closing arguments summarising the evidence and asking the court to find in their client’s favour.
After the solicitors for both parties have provided their submissions to the court it is then for the sheriff to provide his or her judgement in the case. In lower value cases the sheriff may simply provide his judgement on the day of the hearing, having left the bench to review the papers for a short period of time. In higher value cases the sheriff will more likely issue a written judgement which in many cases will be received within a few weeks but can sometimes take longer. In his judgement the sheriff will detail the evidence that was heard, the decision that has been reached and the reasons for that decision.
Sheriff Courts in Scotland and the Court of Session are public courts and therefore it is open to members of the public to sit at the back of the court in order to listen to the evidence in a case. It should be noted however that straightforward civil cases in Scotland are not viewed as a “hot ticket” and therefore it would be very rare for the public gallery to be crowded.
Whilst our solicitors attend courts throughout Scotland on a regular basis they remain mindful of the fact that this will not be a regular occurrence for their clients and that it may cause anxiety in the weeks and months leading up to the court hearing. Our solicitors will put you at ease and reassure you about the whole court process. Ultimately, our aim is to obtain the most favourable outcome for you and often this can only be achieved by proceeding to an evidential hearing in court. Whilst there may be nerves as the case approaches, we are hopeful that at the conclusion of the case it will all have been worthwhile.
If you have a potential claim for loss or injury and are concerned by the prospect of going to court then please do not hesitate to contact Jackson Boyd Lawyers who will do all they can to put you at ease. Please contact us online by clicking here or speak to a member of our specialist team on 0333 222 1855.