Personal injury bucks double-digit slump in civil litigation

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By Legal Futures

7 July 2011


Royal Courts of Justice: sharp fall in High Court cases

Low-level personal injury claims bucked the trend that saw a dramatic double-digit dip in the volume of civil litigation during 2010, Ministry of Justice figures have shown.

The 2010 statistics, published last week, show an almost universal fall in the volume of work going through all levels of UK civil courts last year.

However, litigators say that the fall-off in litigated work is leading to an increase in claims dealt with through alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

County court cases fell 14% in 2010, when there were 1.6m non-family matters started. But the number of unspecified money claims (which are typically personal injury matters), rose by 6% to 191,000. This is up 31% since 2006.

Just over half (52%) were worth between £1,000 and £5,000, 30% between £5,000 and £15,000, and 17% higher than that.

The figures come as the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – which implements the Jackson reforms to control the costs of litigation and particularly low-value personal injury cases – is due to enter its committee stage in the House of Commons.

They will fuel claims of a compensation culture, which is being used as part of the justification for the controversial reforms.

The biggest overall drop was in the Chancery Division, which focuses mainly on disputes involving property, taxation, mortgages and insolvency. The total number of cases launched tumbled by 24%, from 41,000 in 2009 to 31,300.

The Queen’s Bench Division, which works on matters involving personal injury and negligence, saw double-digit decreases too. There were 16,600 proceedings commenced during 2010, 11% less than in 2009. Out of the total, 20% of cases were personal injury actions (although at 1,041 cases, it was 16% less than in 2009), while 25% related to debt issues.

Jeremy Marshall, head of Irwin Mitchell’s litigation and dispute resolution team in London, said a number of issues have prompted the decrease in court claims, including ADR, more rigorous pre-action protocols and the desire from clients to save money.

“The cost of litigation is going up and clients are taking the commercial decision at an early stage to attempt to sort out a dispute before it reaches court,” he said. This has led to a rise in mediation, he added. “This means there is less of a drop-off in the number of disputes but, instead, the way of dealing with them is changing.”

Geraldine Elliott, a commercial disputes resolution partner at City firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, agreed that many cases were being handled away from the court. “Many of the claims we are dealing with involve disputes between financial institutions that have an on-going commercial relationship,” she said.

“The public scrutiny of a High Court case could put that relationship under strain so litigants often prefer the privacy of a commercial settlement or arbitration, under which claims of tens of millions of pounds are being aggressively fought over.”

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