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Small Claims taking almost a year to come to trial - Litigation in the time of a Pandemic


Official figures have revealed that small claims are taking almost three months longer to come to trial than a year ago as the pandemic puts pressure on the county courts.

Across England and Wales the average time taken for small claims to go to trial rose to 48.8 weeks, almost 10.7 weeks longer than the previous period in 2019.

These claims are currently being heard in regular and emergency courts as well as remotely.

The Law Society of England and Wales said that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing issues nationally and has called on the Government to open additional Nightingale courts.

Small claims make up the vast majority of all cases at civil courts and Covid-related delays are, of course more likely to be seen within the small claims process where most claims are likely to have already reached a hearing.

The pandemic has worsened delays for several reasons, including remote hearings not being suitable for all cases and parties sometimes not being able to physically attend courts due to safety concerns.

To deal with the backlog the Courts have encouraged re-referring existing cases for mediation and early neutral evaluation, where a judge will attempt to elicit an agreement between the parties without any finding on fact.

It is clear that the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic and the extension of the Government’s ‘lock down’ requiring people to stay at home has had a significant impact on the administration of civil justice and with the announcement of a third lockdown, unfortunately the situation may not improve for some time.

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