Delays in cases going through the civil court continued to rise in the first quarter of 2021, throwing a potentially huge spanner in the works of the whiplash reforms which came into force last week.
The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) showed that, from January to March 2021, it took an average of 51.5 weeks between a small claim being issued and the claim going to trial, up marginally on the previous quarter and 11.9 weeks longer than the same quarter last year.
The figure was also 14.4 weeks longer than the final quarter of 2019, the last period unaffected by Covid.
The way the Official Injury Claim system is set up means it is possible that a claimant could have to exit the portal, have a dispute resolved by the small claims court and then returned to the portal as many as four times.
More positively, the MoJ’s quarterly civil justice statistics said: “The recovery from the impact of Covid-19 continues to be seen across all civil justice data this quarter. Though volumes are still significantly below previous (pre-Covid) levels, they are comparable to levels seen in the same period last year, at the start of the pandemic in the UK.
“This is particularly evident in the volume of claims defended, which increased further compared to last quarter and volumes are now just 8% lower than the same period last year.
“Compared to the first quarter in 2019 (pre-Covid), volumes of claims defended are even closer to trend levels, at just 5.5% lower. However, the mean time taken from claim to hearing remains significantly negatively impacted by Covid-19.”
It said the impact of measures implemented following the pandemic, such as the opening of Covid-secure courtrooms and the increase in remote hearings, “should show in timeliness measures towards the end of 2021”.
There were 403,000 county court claims issued in January to March 2021, down 18% on the same period in 2020. Of these, 340,000 were specified money claims, down 15%.
The increase in unspecified money claims was driven by an uptick in ‘Other’ unspecified money claims.
The 135% increase to 8,700, similar to what was seen in the previous quarter, was attributed to PPI-related claims that rely on a section of the Consumer Credit Act relating to unfair relationships and followed a series of court rulings on the issue.
This increase was “partially offset” by a 7% drop in personal injury claims to 25,000.
The mean time taken for multi/fast track claims to go to trial was 73.4 weeks, half a week less than the previous quarter but 14 weeks longer than the same period in 2020.
There were 610 applications for judicial review in the first quarter of 2021, down 23% on the same period in 2020. Of the 140 cases that reached the permission stage, 11 were found to be ‘totally without merit’.