Claimants with money disputes can wait YEARS for justice as small claims court delays get worse
- Wait for small claims case to be heard was 51.9 weeks in January-March 2023
- A backlog of cases means consumers face steep waits of months or years
Claimants seeking justice for their money issues are being left waiting for years before their claim even sees a courtroom, as lawyers warn the system ‘really is broken’.
The delays mean agonising wait times for road traffic injury payouts from insurers, compensation for faulty goods, disputes between tenants and landlords and more.
Most money claims are civil cases, not criminal, so are heard by one of three County Court ‘tracks’ – small claims, fast track and multi track.
Small claims are for disputes of less than £10,000, the fast track is for straightforward cases of £10,000 to £25,000 and the multi track is for cases of £25,000 and up.
Courting controversy: Many courtrooms are dealing with lengthy backlogs of money claims
The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice show that the time for a small claims case to be heard in court was 51.9 weeks in the first three months of 2023, an increase of around one week on the same period in 2022.
For fast-track claims and multi-track claims, waiting times have risen to 79.9 weeks, up 6.3 weeks on the first quarter of 2022.
Around 89 per cent of this backlog is for money and damages claims, the Ministry of Justice said.
Damian Bradley, partner at personal injury law firm Express Solicitors, said the longest wait his company had seen was 1,336 days – more than three-and-a-half-years – for a case to reach its first court hearing.
Bradley added that these delays can be catastrophic for claimants and rack up their costs by thousands of pounds.
‘One of our clients, who is in a wheelchair, was asked by defendants to give evidence in person’, Bradley said.
‘His partner, who was heavily pregnant, had to push him from the taxi to the courtroom. He was then told he may not get his case heard that day and was blocking a security exit, so had to wait for two and a half hours outside, and now that trial won’t happen until 2024.
‘He is in dire financial stress. It’s a horrendous example but this is what’s happening. It can add thousands of pounds to the process which is not recoverable. It can be very stressful, many have not been in a court before and it seems like a foreboding process to them. They have sleepless nights. The system really is broken.’
The Ministry of Justice says the wait times are due to a backlog of cases dating back to the Covid-19 lockdowns.
Government figures show that before the pandemic there were 20,177 full-time court staff. But after a wave of furloughs, many court staff quit and did not return. By 2021 the number of court staff had fallen to 16,714.
A spokesperson for HM Courts and Tribunals Service said: ‘The number of cases being heard in the civil courts is at its highest level since the start of the pandemic thanks to our decisive action such as opening extra courtrooms and enabling more remote hearings.
‘We are speeding up access to justice through the biggest-ever recruitment drive for district judges and by digitising more processes, while plans to increase the use of mediation will help more people resolve disputes without needing to go to court in the first place.’
Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of the Association of Consumer Support Organisations, said: ‘Our civil justice system is used by the vast majority of citizens when they need to access the law, yet it has become a Cinderella service after years of Government cuts and ministers taking their eye off the ball.
‘The latest data once again underline how badly justice has declined, a point noted in the latest World Justice Project report which found that the UK has slipped from 13th to 20th in the ranking of countries with the most accessible and affordable civil justice system.’
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