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05 January 2023

Access to justice continues to take longer

3 mins

At the beginning of December 2022, the Ministry of Justice released the latest figures in relation to the number of civil cases that were issued in the County Courts between July and September 2022.

The numbers show that the County Courts continue to remain extremely busy, with nearly 390,000 claims lodged in the courts in that three-month period. Although this figure was 4% down on the corresponding figure from 2021, it still shows an alarmingly high number of cases issued every quarter, and people trying to obtain access to justice.

Of the 390,000 cases issued, 88% (344,000) of them were for money and damages claims. Out of the money claims, 143,000 of the claims were for sums up to £500, and approximately a further 125,000 of the claims were for sums between £500 and £3,000. As such, the majority of claims issued are for relatively low sums.

There was a marked increase in the number of non-monetary claims, in particular mortgage and landlord possession claims which were up nearly 90% on the previous years’ figures for the same quarter. It is clear that lenders and landlords have now become impatient and are seeking to recover their properties now that borrowers and tenants are no longer able to rely on Covid-19, as an excuse for non-payment. However, when compared with figures from 2014, when there was a peak of 60,000 issued mortgage and possession claims from January to March of that year, the new quarterly figure of 25,000 new cases is still low. It will be interesting to see if these figures continue to rise, however, the further we move away from the pandemic.

Unfortunately, the large numbers of claims still being issued, coupled with the closure of many County Courts over the past few years and the impact of Covid-19, have all led to a continued increase in the amount of time it takes for a claim to reach trial.

When the idea of track allocation was introduced with the Civil Procedure Rules, it was envisaged that small claims track matters would take approximately six months from issue to trial, and fast-track cases around 40 weeks from issue to trial. The most recent figures, however, show that the average time for a small claims case (from issue to trial) is now 51.2 weeks and for fast-track/multi-track cases, it is 75.5 weeks. Indeed, in practice and at certain courts (including the High Court), it is not uncommon for it to take between 18-24 months for a multi-track case to reach trial after issue.

As such, it is clear that the government needs to address the issue of why it is taking so long for claims to reach trial, and for claimants to obtain the remedies they seek.

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