Backlogs backed up further

It is no secret that the backlogs in criminal and family courts continue to rise. It should, therefore, be no surprise, that this trend is echoed in the civil courts as well, with the most recent trends continuing to look unfavourable for court users.

According to this month’s Government statistics, 11,000 defended trials (i.e. those which were neither settled nor withdrawn) were heard between January and March 2024. This was down by 26% compared to the same period last year.

On average, small claims have taken 51.6 weeks from their being issued to reaching trial. This appears to be a slight decrease of 0.6% from the same period last year.

Despite this figure appearing to be a slight improvement in court backlogs, this is not echoed in cases of higher value or complexity. Fast track and multi-track trials instead took a staggering 82.9 weeks on average to reach trial, around 2.7 weeks longer than the same period last year. This well exceeded the upper range of 2009-2019, which was 52 – 61 weeks.  It is not clear how many of these trials were the final hearing on a matter, or whether they were ineffective, either for procedural reasons or for being on a “floating list” and therefore being adjourned due to having no Judges available to hear them.

At a time of such financial uncertainty, this series of delays can be catastrophic for households and businesses alike, who risk being out of pocket both for the amounts sought within their money claim, plus legal fees, for well over a year. Litigants regularly wait in limbo in the interim, to learn whether their claim has been successful.

It is yet to be seen what effect the introduction of mediation being integrated into the small claims process - or the Courts' general push towards ADR more generally - will have (see our articles of 8/12/23, 12/1/24 and 8/5/24), but those seeking a speedy outcome will undoubtedly be hoping that sufficient staffing capacity is put into ADR schemes to provide a swifter resolution to their claims.


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