The number of adjourned trials in the Court of Appeal has leaped by 75% in a year, the Gazette can reveal.
HM Courts and Tribunals Service said 640 cases were adjourned in the Civil Division in the year ending 31 March. In the two previous years, the number of adjourned trials was 365 and 364 respectively.
In a response to freedom of information requests from the Gazette, HMCTS also revealed that 297 of last year’s adjournments were caused by a lack of judicial resources. The number of appeal court judges in April 2015 remained at 38, the same as a year earlier.
The response also confirmed that court staff were given fresh guidance at the start of this year to avoid adjourning cases. It was disclosed that the court has begun to list ‘more conservatively’ to avoid cases having to be delayed.
The figures show the scale of the task for new lord chancellor Michael Gove, who has pledged to improve the speed and efficiency of the court process.
One lawyer told the Gazette that she has seen a homelessness appeal adjourned this year, as well as a deportation appeal for a convicted murderer.
A barrister, who did not want to be named, recalled that he has had eight hearings vacated this year shortly before they were due to go ahead.
He said: ‘I would say no to other cases thinking that I have a fixed appeal hearing in the Court of Appeal for which I need three clear days, simply to find out a couple of days before the hearing that they don’t have enough judges.’
A Judicial Office spokesman said it has been a longstanding practice to ‘over-list’ to maximise the use of judicial time when cases settle.
He said: ‘The Court of Appeal works very hard to avoid “standing down” cases at short notice, but this is sometimes unavoidable due to urgent applications or appeals having to be listed, or other late demands on judges.
‘In the last 12 months there has unfortunately been an increase in the number of cases having to be stood down at late notice.’