Small claims taking more than a year to reach trial

New data published today* shows an access to justice crisis for individuals and small businesses as the County Courts battle delays, with cases now taking more than a year (54 weeks) to go to trial.

Analysis of the figures** shows the time it takes for small claims cases to go to trial has risen by 30 weeks since 2010, despite there being 2,000 fewer cases than 14 years ago.

While for more complex, higher value cases, it now takes more than a year and a half (80 weeks) to reach trial.

Law Society of England and Wales president Nick Emmerson said: “We know that delays can result in litigants dropping their claims, rather than put more time and money into them, meaning many are not accessing justice.

“Justice delayed is justice denied. These shocking figures lay bare the crisis at the heart of our justice system.

“We urge the next UK government to commission and publish new research surveying their experiences, why they are unrepresented, what their experience of the court process was, how it could be improved and whether they feel justice was done in their case.”

On the court estate, Nick Emmerson concluded: “Law Society research*** has found that 47% of court users experienced a case delay and adjournment in the preceding 12 months and 28% said the courts estate was not fit for purpose.

“The court estate is mired by leaking roofs, toilets, chairs held together by gaffer tape, exposed wiring and a lack of heating and air conditioning.

“Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) has also been found in at least eight courts, including Doncaster Justice Centre North and Blackpool County Court, meaning they were forced to close.

“This adds pressure to the surrounding courts who pick up the slack and creates extensive disruption to litigants, practitioners and court staff.

“Our research**** has also found that the digitisation of courts is adding to the delays plaguing the civil court system and undermining people’s access to justice when they need it most.

“The County Courts are vital to ensuring individuals and businesses can assert their rights, but delays of more than a year make a mockery of access to justice. The dilapidated court estate needs urgent investment to tackle a huge repair backlog, while previous attempts at digitalisation have unfortunately exacerbated some delays rather than fix them.

“Future online systems must be user-designed with strong collaborative working between users and stakeholders to avoid costly errors and rework in the long run.”

Notes to editors

* Figures from Civil Justice Statistics Quarterly: January to March 2024

** Table 1.5 – Civil Justice Statistics January to March 2024 – Main Tables:

*** Read our report on Solicitors’ view on the court infrastructure

**** Read our report Online court services: delivering a more efficient digital justice system

Read the Justice Select Committee’s call for written evidence on County Court capacity and resource

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Naomi Jeffreys | 020 8049 3928

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS