The Law Society Gazette reported in June that small claims are taking ever longer to resolve as the court system struggles to cope with a shortage of judges and more contested cases.
Civil justice statistics for the first quarter of 2019 showed it took an average of 36.9 weeks between a small claim being issued by the court, and it getting to trial. This was nearly four weeks more than the same period last year. It is the longest average time recorded since these stats were first collected in 2009.
What is a Small Claim?
Small claims are typically claims with a value of £10,000 or less. More complex and higher value claims, on the court’s fast track or multi track, took on average 58.5 weeks to reach a trial, nearly two weeks longer than in the first quarter of 2018. Adding to delays is the number of unrepresented litigants, resulting in many more cases coming to trial. Multi and fast track trials are up by 15%.
The Ministry of Justice stated that it is taking steps to improve the performance of the courts.
What can parties to a dispute do to achieve a quicker resolution?
During the pre-action stage (before court proceedings are issued) the courts encourage the parties to explore and exchange the facts and evidence in the dispute fully and to try to narrow the areas in dispute.
The courts also expect parties to engage in alternative dispute resolution (ADR). ADR can take many forms. It can simply be without prejudice offers put forward in letters or over the phone, it can be settlement meetings between the parties (with or without their solicitors present), it can be a formal mediation with a paid mediator jointly instructed by the parties, or it can be an arbitration where the parties agree that they will be bound by the decision of an arbitrator or expert.
As a dispute resolution solicitor, I always strongly recommend that clients engage in ADR at an early stage, and explore the different ADR options and the costs of them. It can often be less expensive than court proceedings, less risky, and certainly quicker in light of the above issue with court delays. Moreover, if a party doesn’t engage with ADR they can be given costs penalties by the court.
There is no guarantee that ADR will result in a settlement, and it always means that each party has to be open to some compromise. It is the most common way in which disputes are resolved, and court proceedings should be seen as a last resort in most cases.
How can we help you?
If you have a dispute, whether this is a contract dispute, property matter or an unpaid debt then we can help you resolve this. Have a look at my areas of expertise here.
If you want a free initial conversation, please call me on 0114 3032300 or email [email protected]