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County court trial waiting times edge to 10-year high

By John Hyde

Delays in civil claims coming to trial have reached a new high for this year, as increasing numbers of county court claims are defended.

The latest civil justice statistics, covering the period from July to September, showed that the mean time taken for small claims and multi/fast track claims to go to trial was 38.1 and 59.4 weeks. Both were up around three weeks on the same period in 2018.

The statistics reflect the wider trend for this year, as each quarter has recorded longer trial waiting times than the equivalent period in 2018.

Indeed, for fast and multi-track claims the waiting time is now approaching the highest time recorded for the past 10 years, with the figure last reaching 59 weeks at the start of 2014.

The statistics show 80,000 claims were defended in the third quarter of this year (up 8%) and that 17,000 claims went to trial (up 14%). Judgments increased by 7% in July to September 2019 to 341,000.

Between 2010 and 2019, 90 some county courts have closed, out of 240. Campaigners against closures have argued that shutting down courts has put pressure on those that remain and increased delays.

In November, the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons said that HM Courts & Tribunals Service had not shown it was doing enough to understand the impact on court and tribunal users before pressing ahead with reforms, increasing the risk that justice outcomes might be affected.

Of the claims defended in the third quarter of 2019, 54% had legal representation for both claimant and defendant, 27% had representation for claimant only, and 3% for defendant only.

Another longer term trend continued in 2019, according to the civil justice statistics. Personal injury claims were once again down, this time falling 5% to 29,000 in the three-month period.

(Courtesy: Law Gazette Society)