Time taken to get civil cases to trial reaches all-time high

County courts: Cases down but delays up

The time between issue and trial for fast- and multi-track claims has hit 75 weeks, the longest this century, according to government figures published yesterday.

This is despite volumes for all civil actions remaining below pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest civil justice statistics, for the second quarter of 2022.

These showed that between 2002 and 2019, the average time for fast- and multi-track actions to reach trial was between 52 and 59 weeks, before spiralling up over the past two years of the pandemic.

At 50.8 weeks, the time from issue to trial in small claims was near the all-time high of 51.6 weeks reached in the first quarter of this year.

The MoJ said small claims were impacted sooner by Covid-19 than bigger claims in terms of timeliness, while measures introduced to help with small claims – such as mediation and early neutral evaluation – were not reflected in the timeliness figures when successful.

“This means the final cases used in timeliness measures include a disproportionate number of more complex cases which take longer to dispose of.”

Before Covid, it went on, “a sustained period of increasing receipts had increased the time taken to hear civil cases and caused delays to case progress. Additional venues have been provided to add temporary capacity to hear cases and help the court and tribunal system to run effectively”.

County court claims in April to June 2022 were 374,000, down 5% on last year and 20% on the same quarter in 2019. Overall, claims have fallen by a third since the peak in 2017.

Most were money claims, while the number of damages claims was actually up 6% to 33,000, an increase driven by an upturn in personal injury claims (up 16% to 25,000). Compared to the same quarter in 2019 (pre-covid baseline), total damages claims were up 6%.

There were 63,000 claims defended (down 7%) and 12,000 claims that went to trial in April to June 2022 (down 9%) compared to the same quarter in 2021. Compared to the pre-covid baseline, claims defended were down 15% and claims that went to trial were down 20%.

There were 580 applications for judicial reviews in the quarter, 3% fewer than the same period in 2021. Of the 460 cases that reached the permission stage, 41 (9%) were found to be totally without merit.

Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of the Association of Consumer Support Organisations, commented: “Ministers cannot simply blame the pandemic, as court delays were already increasing substantially before March 2020.

“The reason is down to lack of resources and we urge the government to target support on civil justice, which is, after all, the part of the legal system to which most citizens are exposed.

“We have seen the results in a number of areas, including closed or dilapidated court buildings and a reduction in judiciary and court staff. The number of magistrates has fallen by 50% since 2012 while there was a 20% reduction in court staff between 2011 and 2020.”

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