Representing Yourself In A Scottish Court

June 2001

Representing Yourself In A Scottish Court

If you defend yourself the Magistrate (or Sheriff) usually advises you as you go along as to the procedure. If you are in any doubt ask.

Remember just stay calm, take your time. Speak up so that everyone can hear you. (Including your supporters who are behind you – literally!!).

The District Court is fairly informal and you can enter into debate with the magistrate (Justice of the Peace). The Sheriffs Court is more formal, but because the sheriff is a trained lawyer instead of a lay Magistrate they will give more serious consideration to any good legal arguments you may have.Gathering information

You may want to go for a full legal defence using every argument you can lay your hands on. You may want to introduce a lot of moral arguments and personal testimonies. Or you may want to keep it simple. Whatever you feel is right for you must still do some preparation. The magistrate/Sheriff can refuse to hear evidence if he doesn’t think it is relevant. So have a fall back position if what you want to say is not allowed.Prosecution Witness Statements

Witnesses against you (usually police) send statements to the Procurator Fiscal. You can write to the PF and ask him for the names of the prosecution witnesses and copies of their statements. There is no automatic right to see these statements. The PF says they send them to a solicitor as a matter of courtesy. We continually ask for the same courtesy but sometimes you have to push really hard to get them and should ask at every opportunity.

The witnesses can still say things in court that weren’t in their statements, but it does give you an indication of who they are and where they fit into the picture. They help you focus and work out what questions you could ask them.Defence Witnesses

The PF will not allow witnesses who cannot come to the trial to write statements to be read out in the court, because they cannot be cross-examined. You can however present documents to the court as ’productions’ for your defence. These can include reports, articles, letters from MPs etc.

You can call anyone who was a witness to the action to give evidence on your behalf.

If you are defending yourself and are therefore not on legal aid your witnesses cannot claim their travel expenses.

We have in the past called expert witnesses to talk about things like the effects of Trident and International Law. The courts were very reluctant to hear them and since the Lord Advocates Reference Opinion was issued we haven’t tried but it will be even harder to get them in.

If you are found guilty, legally before sentencing you can call character witnesses (if you have no previous convictions).McKenzie’s Friend

It is possible to have a McKenzie’s Friend if you are representing yourself: this is a non-legal or legal person ideally sitting next to you and helping you during the trial – e.g. with paperwork, whispered consultations re examinations of witnesses, moral support. All the Scottish courts we have been in have allowed this.