The average time between a small claim being issued and going to trial continues to spiral upwards ahead of the reforms which will send hundreds of thousands of personal injury claims into the system.
The length of time for fast- and multi-track claims to reach trial has also reached a new high.
The latest civil justice statistics from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show that it took an average of 38.1 weeks for 12,462 small claims to reach trial in the third quarter of 2019, a big jump from 36.6 weeks in the second quarter and 3.2 weeks longer than in the same period in 2018.
The average time has been going up since the last quarter of 2016 to levels that have not been recorded this century. The lowest annual figure was 26.3 weeks in 2003.
For several years, the average was around the 31-week mark, but there has been a rapid rise since last year in particular.
For multi/fast track claims, it took on average 59.4 weeks to reach a trial, nearly three weeks longer than the same period last year and at the upper limit of the long-term range of 52-59 weeks.
The MoJ said a “sustained period of increasing receipts has increased the time taken to hear civil cases and caused delays to progress cases”.
The number of new small claims cases has risen sharply, up by 1,500 on the same quarter in 2018 and over 12,000 for the first time since early 2010.
The government’s Civil Liability Act reforms, due to come into force next April, will see hundreds of thousands of road traffic accident claims worth £5,000 or less moved onto the small claims track, although the government’s hope is that most will settle without the need for a trial.
We reported on Legal Futures this week that even defendant insurers now have grave doubts that it will be possible to implement the reforms in April as planned.
The statistics also showed that the number of personal injury claims being litigated fell 5% on the previous year to 28,835 – higher than the previous quarter this year but still the second lowest figure since the last quarter of 2011.
In all, 550,858 claims were started in the magistrates’ and county court in the third quarter of 2019, the highest figure since the MoJ started publishing quarterly figures in 2009, except for a brief spike in mid-2017.