Time from issue to trial in county court hits record high of 80 weeks

Courts: Claim numbers returning to pre-Covid levels

The number of claims lodged at the county court has returned to near pre-Covid levels but the time between issue and trial has reached a new all-time high, according to the latest government figures.

There were 443,000 county court claims lodged in January to March 2023, the highest volume since the first quarter of 2020, when there were 489,300.

The quarterly civil justice statistics published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) showed that between 2002 and 2019, the average time for multi/fast-track actions to reach trial was between 52 and 61 weeks, before spiralling up.

In the first quarter of this year, however, they took on average 79.9 weeks to reach a trial, more than six weeks longer than just a year earlier and the longest period on record.

At 51.9 weeks, the time from issue to trial in small claims was near the all-time high of 52.1 reached in the third quarter of last year.

Compared to 2019, these measures are 14.9 weeks longer for small claims and 21.4 weeks longer for multi/fast-track claims.

This is despite the total annual number of claims being submitted reducing from 2,029,258 in 2019 to 1,537,759 in 2022, a 24% fall.

The MoJ said the increase in the volume of claims in Q1 was mainly driven by rises in money claims. At the same, there was an 8% fall in the number of personal injury claims to 17,000.

“Volumes of hearings, judgments and warrants have also increased compared to the same quarter in 2022, which could be linked to continued recovery following Covid-19,” the MoJ said.

“These increases follow a period of general stability since 2021, however it is too early to confirm whether these upturns will continue. Volumes of all civil actions remain below levels in the same quarter of 2019.”

Researchers said the timeliness figures for multi- and fast-track cases reflected the fact “a considerable proportion” of them were issued during the pandemic.

“Measures have been put in place to help reduce waiting times, as reflected in the increased number of hearings in the current quarter compared to Q1 2022. However, we expect timeliness measures to be impacted for as long as cases stayed during the pandemic remain in the open caseload.

“Provisional data available shows there were 320,000 days sat by judges in 2022, the second highest number of sitting days since 2011, this was 3% lower than last year’s sitting days which were at a record high.”

Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO), argued that the civil justice system has become “a Cinderella service after years of government cuts and ministers taking their eye off the ball”.

He continued: “The MoJ’s own statistics underline that there is a very long road ahead to rescue our civil justice system. What is so disappointing is that there is no clear strategy to resolve these issues, let alone published targets to bring delays down to an acceptable level. Where is the plan?

“We urge the MoJ to put more resources into reducing the backlog, including setting concrete targets to ensure there is accountability as well as clarity. Ministers have gone missing in recent years; we hope the new justice secretary makes this a top priority.”

ACSO said the latest data from County Court Money Claims Centre said it was taking 36 working days just to issue a new claim on paper and 60 working days from receipt of application to producing the court order.

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