New data from the Ministry of Justice has revealed lengthy court waiting times in England and Wales, with delays remaining at record highs despite decreasing case numbers.
In the quarterly statistics for September to November, the mean time for small claims and multi/fast track claims to go to trial stood at 55.6 weeks and 76.4 weeks, respectively. Both were notably higher than 2019 pre-pandemic figures, which sat at 38.1 weeks and 59.4 weeks.
The mean time for small claims also showed a month-long increase compared to the 51.9 weeks reported in the second quarter of this year. Meanwhile, multi/fast track claims mostly stayed the same, with mean time only decreasing slightly from 79.9 weeks in the previous quarter
Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO), said the latest data reflects the inability of the of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to address the situation.
“Every quarter brings fresh disappointments, and it’s not as though any of this can be laid at the door of COVID as the problems predate the pandemic,” he said. “The government seems largely to have given up on civil justice, and the system now feels third rate. Ministers who trumpet the value and importance of justice and the rule of law are getting a hollow laugh from citizens and their representatives who are struggling to access the civil court.”
ACSO’s campaign to address civil justice backlogs recently gained momentum after the House of Commons Justice Select Committee decided to inquire into issues at county courts, with the call for evidence closing on December 15.
Maxwell Scott has urged “people working on the front line of civil justice” to share their experiences, emphasising the impact of delays, cancellations, and added costs on the public.
“In the New Year, the committee should grill ministers and officials on what they intend to do about this, and by when,” he added. “Currently it feels as though there is no strategy, no targets and no progress being made. We cannot continue like this; irreparable damage is being done to public confidence in our civil justice system.”
As for the Civil National Business Centre (CNBC) in Northampton, which was established as the national processing centre for civil claims, weekly data has pointed to inconsistent performance.
While there has been some improvement since its implementation of a recovery plan in August, some processes have remained slow.
For instance, the time for issuing a new claim on paper has decreased to 11 working days from 40 days in August. However, processing a defence/counterclaim before issuing the directions questionnaire has increased to 28 days
Maxwell Scott said the transfer of civil administration work from Salford to Northampton should no longer be an excuse for the delays.
“The numbers represent material delays for consumers and can significantly increase costs, and on top of this we are expecting to see court fees rise by a further 10% in March, subject to the government’s ongoing consultation,” he said.
He also urged the HMCT to establish Service Level Agreements and implement an action plan to reduce processing times, aiming for a maximum of 10 working days.
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