Evidence emerged this week that courts are starting to buckle under the strain of near 10-year-high claims figures.
From July to September this year, the Ministry of Justice reported that 560,000 claims were issued in the county court – the second highest quarterly figure since 2006. Of these, 445,000 were specified money claims, a figure which was up 15% on the same period in 2016. The number of claims being defended increased year on year by 5% to 76,000.
The rising number of claims and defences comes at a time when the government has just largely finished its programme of closures, which has resulted in almost 20 county courts in England and Wales shutting down in the past two years.
Pressure on the remaining county courts may be taking its toll, as they hosted a total of 14,000 trials in July to September, up 11% on the same quarter in 2016. The number of judgments increased by 24% on the same quarter in 2016, with a 33% rise in warrants issued.
There was an average of 31.9 weeks between a small claim being issued and the claim going to trial between July and September 2017, almost a week longer than the same period in 2016. For multi/fast track claims, the average time taken was 56.5 weeks, which was an annual increase of three weeks.
After reaching their lowest point in the second quarter of 2012, the total number of specified money claims has continuously increased. The total is driven by an increase in lower value monetary claims (classed as £1,000 or under).
Unspecified money claims were up 10% to 40,000, with the vast majority of these being personal injury claims which also rose 10% year-on-year.