Delays in cases going through the civil courts reduced slightly in the second quarter of 2021, but it still takes 49 weeks to get a small claim from issue to trial and 71 weeks for larger claims.
The small claims delays throw a potentially huge spanner in the works of the whiplash reforms which came into force on 31 May.
The way the Official Injury Claim system is set up means it is possible that a claimant could have to exit the portal, have a dispute resolved by the small claims court and then returned to the portal as many as four times.
The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) showed that, from April to June 2021, it took an average of 49.2 weeks between a small claim being issued and the claim going to trial, down from 51.5 the previous quarter but 12.6 weeks longer than the same quarter in 2019 (the quarter in 2020 marked the start of lockdown and so does not provide a good comparison).
For multi/fast track claims, it took on average 71.1 weeks to reach a trial, 12 weeks longer than in April to June 2019
The MoJ’s quarterly civil justice statistics said: “Small claims have been disproportionally impacted by Covid-19 in terms of timeliness for a number of reasons.
“These claims have shorter timeframes to begin with, and so delays will be observed sooner in the timeliness figures, whereas delayed fast and multi-track claims may not yet have reached a hearing.
“Small claims may also be less suited to remote hearings as they tend to be in person claims rather than professional users.”
Measures put in place to help with the backlog, such as mediation and early neutral evaluation, were not captured by the figures, meaning that the cases used in timeliness measures “include a disproportionate number of more complex cases which take longer to dispose of”.
There were 395,000 county court claims issued in the quarter, down 15% on the same period in 2019. Of these, 331,000 were specified money claims, down 10%.
Though the number of unspecified money claims was stable compared to 2019, there was a 233% jump in ‘Other’ unspecified money claims to 9,300, which was attributed to PPI-related claims that rely on a section of the Consumer Credit Act relating to unfair relationships and followed a series of court rulings on the issue.
This increase was “offset” by a 23% drop in personal injury claims to 21,000.
There were 1,200 applications for judicial review in the first half of 2021, down 16% on the same period in 2020 – judicial review cases were “not significantly impacted by Covid-19”, the MoJ said.
Of the 430 cases in 2021 that reached the permission stage, 48 (11%) were found to be ‘totally without merit’.
The MoJ said that, with Covid-19 restrictions coming to an end, claim volumes were likely to return to historic trend levels but timeliness measures would remain affected.
“As timeliness measures are taken from the initial claim date, data for the next few quarters is likely to include cases issued before or during the early stages of the pandemic.
“Measures implemented following the pandemic, such as the opening of Covid secure courtrooms and the increase in hearings by remote means, will have benefited later cases and as such should show in timeliness measures towards the end of 2021.”