Court delays deterring clients and lawyers from bringing claims

Courts: Fees not a primary factor

Court delays are deterring people from taking legal action, research for the government has found, with lawyers also worried that clients will blame them for the delays.

The study showed that, unsurprisingly, the probability of success was the most important factor in taking legal action, followed by reputational issues.

Court fees were not seen as a primary factor but there was concern over the “discrepancy between the use of court fees to fund the court system and the perceived poor quality of service”.

The Ministry of Justice commissioned Ipsos UK to carry out in-depth interviews with 10 family law firms, seven personal injury (PI) firms and 14 companies issuing money claims in bulk – both creditors and debt recovery agencies/law firms – for the qualitative report Factors influencing organisations’ decisions to bring cases to the civil and family courts.

After probability of success, the role of organisations’ reputations was also considered when deciding whether to make a claim or application, “whether this be their reputation to the public (e.g., through press coverage) or their credibility among clients”.

All respondents “raised some level of concern about delays in the court process”, with the PI and family law firms in particular saying it was important to both their and their clients’ decisions to take on cases.

“In some of these cases, concern about court delays was seen as a deterrent to coming to court as participants feared that clients would ‘blame’ them for these delays and increased costs.”

Clients too were “often deterred when informed about the length of the court process”.

“[PI and family law firms] interviewed noted that while delays in the court system tended to be out of their control, they could reflect badly on firms, especially as delays can lead to additional legal fees for clients, emphasising the importance solicitors placed on their firms’ reputation when deciding whether to make a claim or application.”

For money claims, on the other hand, the impact of court delays was said to be less acute as most of the cases were undefended and concluded relatively quickly.

Court fees were not seen as a “primary factor in the decision-making process”. They were more of a consideration for those who brought money claims, some of whom handled their litigation in-house, as fees represented their main external cost.

“This was particularly the case for the highest value claims due to the higher issuing fees they attract, and the lowest value claims as the fee – whilst lower – can make up a significant proportion of the overall value of the claim.”

Solicitors noted that court fees “typically made up a small proportion of the overall cost for their clients”.

When asked about the impact of potential changes to court fees in the future, nobody thought a modest rise would have a considerable impact on the number of claims or applications they may issued.

However, the “discrepancy” between the use of court fees to fund the court system and the perceived poor quality of service provided by the courts was highlighted.

Researchers said there was a view among some participants who brought money claims especially that their fees “likely subsidised other court services such as the family and criminal courts”.

Meanwhile, PI lawyers expressed “growing frustration” about fixed recoverable costs (FRCs), feeling that “this was making it increasingly difficult for firms to successfully operate”.

If the current level of FRCs, introduced for money claims up to £100,000 last October, was not revised, “this may reduce the volume of claims their firm can make”.

All groups “expressed a preference” for alternative dispute resolution instead of taking cases to court, with mediation the most popular method.

Family lawyers viewed mediation as “particularly effective” in finance cases where both parties were “on good terms and there were not many assets involved”.

    Readers Comments

  • Gary says:

    I completely agree. I emailed a large court and was told it would take 40 working days for a response and that I should not chance until it has been 45 working days. It makes things harder especially as I cannot now call the court, instead I get through to a national call centre who tell me to email the court.

    It is having a huge effect on access to justice and making the jobs of solicitor harder.

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