What happens at a housing court hearing

A court hearing is where a decision is made about your case by a judge.

Decide if you'll attend a court hearing

You should always go to a hearing involving your case. The court will make a decision even if you are not there - you could find the whole case has been decided against you. 

If you made an agreement with your landlord before the hearing, the court may not accept it unless you are there in person.

The only reasons not to go are because:

  • your solicitor or adviser says you don't need to attend
  • the court tells you that the hearing has been cancelled or moved to another date
  • you are unable to attend due to serious illness or family emergency 

A routine appointment or difficulty getting time off work is not a good reason.

If you can't go, tell your solicitor as soon as possible. If you don't have a solicitor, contact the court and find out what you need to do to change the date. 

Prepare for the court hearing

Check if you can get legal aid, advice or representation before the hearing.

You may be able to get legal aid if you’re on benefits or have a low income.

Legal aid is available for some housing problems including:

  • eviction
  • repossession
  • challenging a council's homelessness decision

An adviser can help you understand what the hearing is about.

Documents to take

Work out if you need to prepare anything beforehand and what you should take with you. This could include:

  • your tenancy agreement
  • bank statements showing your rent payments
  • payslips

Get advice if you don't understand any documents from the court or something happening in your case.

Attend the hearing

The court papers tell you when and where your hearing is held.

Try to arrive at the court on time. If you don't arrive on time, you could miss your hearing.

There will probably be other cases listed to take place at the same time. Be prepared to wait until your case is called.

When you arrive:

  • find out exactly where the hearing is taking place – there should be a list of cases displayed at the court
  • let the court staff know that you are there to attend the hearing and if you have an adviser
  • ask to see the duty adviser if you don't have an adviser or representative to speak on your behalf

The court usher is a court officer who deals with the administration of court hearings. If you cannot find the usher, ask the person at the court front desk or reception where you can find the usher, where to wait and in which room the hearing takes place.

Make sure you tell the usher if you briefly need to leave the court building or you could miss your case being called.

What to do at the court hearing

Court cases are usually heard in a courtroom. Sometimes they are heard in the judge’s room (called 'chambers’).

The general public are not allowed in.

Where to sit

The court usher tells you when to come in and where to sit. 

The judge then comes in and the usher asks everyone to stand. Then everyone sits down. The judge says who is to speak and only that person stands up.

When to speak

Usually the person who started the case (for example, your landlord) or their representative speaks first. They explain what the case is about. They explain their evidence to the judge, usually by showing documentary evidence, explaining it and calling any witnesses.

The judge should have a copy of any documents you or the other party sent to the court before the hearing.

Calling witnesses

Witnesses are asked to come to the front, usually to a witness box. The claimant asks the witness to say what they saw and heard. At the end, the defendant (person who the case is against) can ask questions.

The judge can ask questions at any time.

The defendant  or their representative speaks next. The defendant speaks to their witnesses first, and then the claimant can ask questions.

At the end of this, the claimant is allowed a chance to reply to any points made by the defendant and then end the case.

How to speak to the judge

In court, you should always address the judge. You should call her or him 'your honour', or sir or madam.

Be polite. Don't argue with the judge or the other party. If you believe the judge has misunderstood your point, you can explain it, without arguing about it.

Make sure you say everything you want to say. If there is something you don't understand ask the judge to explain. Speak only when it is your turn to speak. Don't interrupt the judge or the other party.

If you have a solicitor or duty adviser in court with you, only speak if you go into the witness box. If there is something you want your representative to say, pass them a note or whisper it quietly.

Judge's decision

The judge then makes a decision. This may be immediate in a straightforward case. In a complicated case the judge's decision can take days or even weeks. The judge should say how long it will take.

When the court makes a decision, this is called a judgment. 

The judgment says what should happen next. If the judgment says that you must pay money, it also says when you must pay. If you don't pay in that time, the other side can go back to court and ask the court to 'enforce the judgment'.

If you don't pay, you will have a county court judgment (CCJ) against you. The other party might take steps to try to make you pay. Get advice from Citizens Advice or a law centre if you can't afford to pay.

Challenge the court's decision

It may be possible to appeal if you are not happy with the court's decision. The time limit for appeals may only be 2 weeks.

Get advice from a solicitor or specialist adviser as quickly as possible. 

Find out how to get free legal advice and representation for housing problems.

Last updated 17 Jan 2019 | © Shelter

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