Multi- or fast track claims now take an average of 18 months to come to trial, as delays continue to worsen in the civil courts.

The latest civil justice statistics produced by the Ministry of Justice for the period between April and June this year show that it took on average 78.2 weeks for these claims to reach a trial. This was 2.8 weeks longer than in the same period in 2022 and way beyond any pre-pandemic figures. The highest waiting time in the decade before Covid was 61 weeks.

In April to June 2023, it took an average of 52.3 weeks between a small claim being issued and the claim going to trial, one week longer than the same period in 2022.

The MoJ said that the pandemic had led to an uptick in time taken for all claims to reach trial. Previously, a sustained period of rising receipts had increased the time taken to hear civil cases and caused delays to case progress.

It added: ‘The HMCTS reform programme is modernising and digitising the systems to allow the courts to work more efficiently and cases are expected to progress from issue to directions more quickly.’

The figures come in the same week that the claimant-friendly Association of Consumer Support Organisations started a new campaign to reduce delays in the civil justice system and pull people out of ‘legal limbo’.

Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of the not-for-profit body, today wrote to justice secretary Alex Chalk pointing to historically high trial waiting times despite claims numbers reducing.

He said: ‘While we appreciate that the pandemic itself led to necessary court closures, the more troubling context for the increase in delays lies in the total number of claims being submitted. These fell from 2,029,258 in 2019 to 1,538,846 in 2022, a reduction of half a million claims, or 24%.

‘We expect the overall numbers for 2023 to show further falls. Meanwhile for tribunals, the position on average waits deteriorated from an average of 30 weeks in 2019 to 45 weeks in 2021,4 and again we would expect to see further deterioration when new data are available.’

Maxwell Scott said the government needs to invest new funding to inject fresh impetus into the courts reform programme.

Ministers should also set clear targets for getting delays down and speed up the adoption of new models of dispute resolution.

Maxwell Scott added: ‘At the very least, they should look as a first step to returning mean time taken for claims to go to trial to where they were before the pandemic, which was 37.2 weeks for small claims and 59.4 weeks for multi/fast track claims.

‘Given the sharp decline in overall claims numbers, this is setting a very low bar but would at least show there is willing to turn around a very poor situation.’