Fast-track and multi-track civil cases are taking up to 15 months to complete their first case and costs management conference (CCMC), research has found.
The worst performing regions were the East of England and the South-East, with average waiting times of 349 and 318 days − much longer than the 201 days recorded for the best performer, Yorkshire and the Humber.
The worst court was Thanet County Court in Kent, where claimants wait over 456 days (15 months) to complete their CCMC, followed by Chelmsford in Essex with 426. They were followed by Reading (424), Bournemouth (394) and Durham (377).
The best performers had far shorter waiting times. Plymouth led the way with 167, followed by Bradford (168) and Preston (173), Aberystwyth (182) and Barnstaple (183).
The North-East and the East Midlands fared little better than the South-East, with average waiting times of 310 and 308 days. They were followed by Wales (299), London (278) and the South West (238).
After Yorkshire, the best performing regions were the North-West (235), the West Midlands (236) and the South-West (238).
The research was carried by Manchester-based personal injury law firm Express Solicitors and the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO). Express Solicitors calculated how long its cases were taking between serving a claim form and reaching the conclusion of the first CCMC.
James Maxey, managing partner of the law firm, said the figures “underline what a postcode lottery” civil justice has become.
“The data on delays is of huge concern. Our clients cannot move on and get back on track with their lives if they face such a long wait. Many of them have been injured in road traffic accidents, or are fighting for compensation after suffering an injury at work.”
He went on: “During this year, courts have cancelled 20 trials where we are representing clients at the very last minute because there have been no available judges. The cost is significant; clients have often travelled miles to court (and taken a day off work) only to be told that there is no judge.”
Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of ACSO, added: “There has been plenty of publicity for delays in the criminal courts, but it’s the civil courts which are used by the vast majority of the public.
“The government has blamed Covid for our courts chaos, but our justice system has been starved of funding for years before the pandemic.”
He urged ministers to set targets for “an acceptable delay between application and hearing, backed by sufficient funding to ensure that courts have the means to meet those targets, including making sure there are enough judges to hear cases”.
Separately, national figures released by the Ministry of Justice for the first quarter of this year show that the average time taken for small claims to come to trial was just under a year (51.4 weeks) and fast-track or multi-track cases almost 18 months (73 weeks).
This was 14.5 weeks longer than in the same quarter of 2019, before the pandemic, but similar to the first quarter of last year.
County court claims in total were down by 22% or 409,000 in the first quarter of this year compared to 2019, but up by 1% on the same quarter in 2021.
Personal injury claims were down 39% in the first quarter of 2022 compared to 2019, falling to 18,000.
MoJ statisticians said a 19% increase in number of days sat by judges in 2021, compared to 2020, had taken it to a record high.
“However, with the courts still recovering from the impact of Covid-19, large backlogs remain in most jurisdictions.”