Small Claims, Big Problems

We all knew that the judicial system would take a hit from the pandemic, just as pretty much every other part of life has, but it is only now that we’re starting to see the real impact of coronavirus by looking at the length of time it’s taking for small claims to go through the courts.

On average, it’s taking 48.8 weeks for small claims to go through, with many being pushed back to mediation, or early resolution where possible, simply because there isn’t enough time in the day to get as many heard as need to be heard.

Not enough time in the day, not enough judges, not enough courts.

Coronavirus is the main cause of the delays, which are now getting on for one year, but there were problems before March 2020, with permanent closures of courts, staffing shortages and outdated IT systems all playing their own part in the underperformance of the civil system.

We don’t like to throw the word ‘chaos’ around too readily, but from the outside looking in, the system needs improvement, whether that’s through further streamlining and efficiency boosting, or through simply putting more money into the system.

It might be wishful thinking to expect more permanent courts to open...

...however, in order to keep up and catch up with the backlog of cases and claims that are lagging behind due to coronavirus, so called ‘nightingale’ courts will continue to operate for some time yet, in a bid to get the system moving more quickly and smoothly, as it so badly needs to.

Critics paint a picture of disorganised backrooms, with reams and reams of paperwork and case files adding to the delays. We can’t comment on what’s going on behind the scenes, but front of house wise, a year for small claims to go through is far too long.

Statistically speaking...

In total, 11,000 trials were held from July to September 2020, down 37% from the same period in 2019. Of the claims that went to trial, 8,100 (74%) were small claims (down 35%) and 2,800 (26%) were fast and multi-track trials (down 42%).

So, even though trials are down, it’s taking longer than it did last year for things to go through.

A worrying trend.

Let’s hope that things start to speed up soon, as the recovery of the economy, not to mention individuals, families and businesses, all but depends on that happening.

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