The “typical claimant” in a civil court case is male, self-employed, Asian, healthy and aged over 45, a major survey for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has found.
The research revealed that large numbers of individual claimants thought the amounts charged in court fees were “more than expected”.
Based on over 2,200 completed questionnaires from court users, the survey was carried out by TNS BRMB in partnership with Bryson Purdon Social Research and consultant Mark Sefton.
Women were less litigious than men, with men accounting for 62% of claimants in specified money cases (mainly small claims), 55% in unspecified money cases (mainly personal injury) and 55% of claimants in possession cases.
Claimants were most likely to be white in specified money claims (86%) and least likely in possession claims (69%). In unspecified money cases, 16% of claimants were Asian, and in possession cases, 18%. This compared with figures of 3% and 9% for those from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds.
Older people were more likely to be claimants in possession cases and less likely in unspecified money cases. In possession cases, 28% of claimants were aged between 65 and 74, compared to 18% in unspecified money cases.
The researchers said that before the study, there was little “quantitative information” on civil claimants’ characteristics and experiences.
“Experiences vary for different claim types – possession cases were most likely to involve court hearings and have outcomes decided at court by a judge, whereas specified and unspecified money claims were more likely to be settled out of court,” they said.
“Similarly, use of solicitors or other lawyers also varied widely by claim type, with almost all unspecified money claimants using legal representation, compared with less than half of specified money claimants doing so.
“Payment of legal fees also varied by claim type with legal fees funded on a ‘no win no fee’ basis for the majority of unspecified money claims, but funded by the claimant themselves in most possession claims.”
Exactly half of all unspecified money claims were funded by ‘no win, no fee’, but in a further 32% of these cases, claimants said they did not know. They only paid court fees themselves in 6% of these cases, compared to 70% of specified money claims and 89% of possession cases.
The use of remissions to waive or reduce court fees was very limited – applying to 1% of unspecified money claims and 3% of specified.
No figures were given for what unspecified money claimants thought of court fees because the number of responses was too small.
In total, 47% of claimants thought the court fees they paid were “as expected”, 38% “more than expected” and only 2% “less than expected”, with the rest not knowing what to expect.
The researchers commented: “The majority of claimants reported that ideally they would have avoided court action, that they had taken some form of alternative action to avoid going to court, and that they had sought advice on whether or not to make a claim before they made the claim.
“This suggests that the civil courts are seen as a last resort to resolve disputes, and decisions to take court action are given consideration.
“Overall, the majority of claims were concluded in favour of the claimant. This suggests that individual claimants tend to use the system appropriately for meritorious cases.”