The time litigants have to wait to reach trial in civil claims reached record lengths even before the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic hit, new government figures have revealed.
The latest quarterly civil justice statistics from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) also show that the number of newly issued personal injury (PI) claims has fallen to its lowest level since 2011.
The figures for the first quarter of 2020 “include only minimal Covid-19-related impact on the activities of the courts”, the update said.
In January to March 2020, it took an average of 39.7 weeks between a small claim being issued and the claim going to trial, 2.8 weeks longer than in the same period in the previous year and by far the longest period recorded this century.
For multi/fast track claims, it took on average 59.6 weeks to reach a trial, 1.1 weeks longer than in January to March 2019 “and continuing to exceed the upper limit of the long-term range” of 52-59 weeks. It was the second highest wait on record, beaten only by the last quarter of 2019.
“A sustained period of increasing receipts has increased the time taken to hear civil cases and caused delays to progress cases,” the update said.
The number of trials during the quarter increased by 7% to 17,000. Next year’s whiplash reforms are likely to increase the number of cases going to the small claims court significantly.
Unspecified money claims – mostly PI cases – have fluctuated between 30,000 and 40,000 claims each quarter over the last five years, but volumes have been decreasing, falling by 8% to 30,000 in the quarter compared to the same period last year.
“The fall was driven by a decrease in personal injury, down 11% from 30,000 to 27,000, and can be attributed to the impact of previous government reform to tackle the costs of civil litigation through measures included in part 2 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (and other related reforms).”
More precisely, there were 26,507 PI claims issued during the quarter, the lowest figure since the first quarter of 2011, when there were 25,470. They peaked at 41,757 in the first quarter of 2013.
In a tweet, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) noted the government attributing the fall to the LASPO reforms. “What do you think? A fall in negligence which causes injuries? Or access to justice being denied?”
Specified money claims decreased by 8% in the quarter to 400,000 claims.
Today, meanwhile, the MoJ announced that it is investing up to £6m in new software to bring scheduling and listing activity into a single tool.
The contract with McGirr Technologies is initially for £3.2m over two years, with the option to extend for a further two years, bringing the total up £6m. It forms part of the £1bn court modernisation programme.
Scheduling and listing are currently managed using a variety of systems, from paper-based files to tools based on Outlook diaries.
The software will be installed and tested in a small number of courts over the next nine months, after which the MoJ will announce plans for a national roll-out.