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Delays in civil cases reaching trial have increased by 62%, finds APIL

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The time it takes for some civil claims to reach trial has increased by an average of 62 per cent since 2016, analysis conducted by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has revealed.

APIL’s analysis of the latest civil justice statistics for the fourth quarter of 2023 found that the average time it takes for fast-track and multi-track claims cases to reach trial increased by six months when compared to the fourth quarter of 2019.

It increased by an average of eight months when compared to the same quarter in 2016.

It took an average of 85.7 weeks, more than a year and a half, for claims to reach trial, a rise of 41 per cent when compared to the same period in 2019. It was a rise of 62 per cent compared to the same period in 2016.

It took an average of 55.8 weeks, more than a year, for small-track claims to reach trial, which was an increase of 51 per cent when compared to the same period in 2019, and up 84 per cent when compared to the same period in 2016.

APIL members have reported that a lack of judicial availability has contributed to delays. In one example, a judge was not available for the full duration of a hearing.

APIL has given written evidence to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee’s inquiry into the work of the County Court.

“While the pandemic has contributed to delays, it is not the sole cause. Delays have been on the increase for a long time,” said APIL president Jonathan Scarsbrook.

“During a delay, justice is at a standstill. England and Wales once had a justice system which was held up as an example to all the others, but now we have a system which is fraught with delays, short-staffed, and with court buildings in a state of disrepair.”

APIL is concerned that the Government’s decision to introduce mandatory mediation for all small claims in the County Court could make delays even worse.

“Lawyers in lower-value personal injury cases already strive to resolve claims without going to court. A mandatory mediation session is not necessary, or appropriate, and will create another hurdle for victims of negligence who do need to use the court and have their cases heard,” Scarsbrook explained.

Another issue with the County Court has been the Damages Claims Portal (DCP). APIL told the Committee that digitisation has some considerable advantages, but that the DCP has been plagued by issues.

Scarsbrook explained: “The use of the DCP is mandatory for almost all personal injury claims issued in the County Court, but there have been multiple IT and power issues, including four outages in a single 10-day period. These outages have serious repercussions on the administration of justice, and prevents claims being issued, served, and acknowledged.

“There have also been instances where the DCP does not comply with practice directions or the civil procedure rules, which causes delays and issues which, if not rectified urgently, often lead to claims being incorrectly dismissed,” he said.

“The solution to these issues is not to limit access to justice, as happened with the recent whiplash reforms, but to ensure we have a fully-functioning, modern court estate and a justice system which is available for all those who need it.”

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