The average time between a small claim being issued and going to trial has reached the highest level this century over the past year – just as the government is set to flood the system with tens of thousands more claims.
Meanwhile, the number of personal injury claims issued in the courts has fallen to its lowest point since 2011.
The latest civil justice statistics from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show that it took an average of 36.6 weeks for 11,158 small claims to reach trial in the second quarter of 2019, marginally less than in the first quarter but 2.7 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 multi/fast track claims, it took on average 59.1 weeks to reach a trial, 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 blamed a “sustained period of increasing receipts” for increasing the time taken to hear civil cases and causing delays to progressing cases.
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.
In its report on the first quarter of 2019, the MoJ said “the recent appointment of a large pool of deputy district judges that will begin hearing cases this year, as well as district judge recruitment that is underway, will increase judicial capacity and improve the performance of the courts”.
The statistics also showed that the number of personal injury claims being litigated continues to fall, down 11% to 28,000 in the second quarter. This is the lowest figure since the last quarter of 2011.
The MoJ said the fall could be attributed “to a change in Civil Procedure rules on holiday package gastric illness claims, and whiplash reform”.