Small claims are taking longer than ever to resolve as the system buckles under the strain of judicial shortages and more contested cases, official figures have revealed. 

Civil justice statistics released by the Ministry of Justice today, covering the first three months of 2019, show it took an average of 36.9 weeks between a small claim being issued and the claim going to trial.

This was almost four weeks longer than in the same period in 2018, and the longest mean time recorded since stats started to be collected in this way in 2009.

Multi or fast track claims took on average 58.5 weeks to reach a trial, nearly two weeks longer than in the first quarter of 2018.

In its explanatory note, the MoJ says the civil justice system has undergone a ‘sustained period of increasing receipts’ which has increased the time taken to hear civil cases and caused delays to progressing cases.

The note adds: ‘Additional investment has reduced administrative backlogs and 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 figures appear to show that cooperation between parties is in shorter supply. The number of claims defended increased by 2% to 75,100, with just 54% of these cases having legal representation for both the claimant and defendant.

The issue of unrepresented litigants is an extra problem because so many more cases are coming to trial. In total, 16,000 claims went to trial from January to March – an increase of 8% year-on-year – with multi/fast track trials up 15% to 4,800.

Meanwhile, the statistics appear to show further reductions in the number of personal injury claims, as fewer holiday sickness claims are made and reforms of recent years take effect.

Volumes of PI claims have been falling consistently in recent updates, and from January to March this year, the number was down 11% to 29,800.

The MoJ is planning to implement a new portal for litigants in person to make RTA claims worth less than £5,000 from next April. This follows on from reforms in the Civil Liability Act, which were predicated partly on the high number of claims and which will largely remove solicitors from the process.