The civil justice system appeared to have been slowing down in the weeks leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, new statistics suggest.
The Ministry of Justice’s civil justice statistics for the first quarter of 2020 show the total number of county court claims had fallen year-on-year across almost all case types.
The period includes the final two weeks of March when people with symptoms were first advised to isolate and then the UK initiated a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the virus. It is largely acknowledged that activity in the civil justice system has fallen significantly since March, and these figures give an early indication of how the landscape has changed since the virus.
In total, 489,000 county court claims were lodged from January to March 2020, down 9% on the same quarter of 2019.
Non-money claims have been generally decreasing since the peak of 89,000 in July to September 2013. In the current quarter, this number decreased by 16% (from 69,000 to 58,000) compared with the same period in 2019.
Specified money claims decreased by 8% to 400,000, with unspecified claims down by the same proportion to 30,000 – largely driven by an 11% fall in personal injury claims. Allocations to the small claims track, fast track and multi-track all fell year-on-year.
Mortgage and landlord possession claims decreased by 20% to 29,000 in the first quarter of 2020. Statisticians suggested this decrease was most likely linked to government and other measures implemented towards the end of March to limit the impact of Covid-19.
On the eve of lockdown, and with courts about to close as the justice system slowed down, the statistics show delays continued to increase. In January to March 2020, it took an average of 39.7 weeks between a small claim being issued and the claim going to trial – 2.8 weeks longer than in the same period in the previous year.
The MoJ said a sustained period of increasing receipts has increased the time taken to hear civil cases and caused delays to progress cases. For multi/fast track claims, it took on average 59.6 weeks to reach a trial, 1.1 weeks longer than in January to March 2019 – continuing to exceed the upper limit of the long-term range (52-59 weeks). There were 300,000 judgments made in January to March 2020, a decrease of 17% on the same quarter of 2019.