Small claims cases taking longer to be heard in the Black Country

The time taken for small claim cases to go to trial in the Black Country has risen, new figures show.

Small claims are often used by people seeking their money back if something has gone wrong on a deal or a purchase.

They make up the vast majority of all cases at civil courts. These are currently being heard in regular and emergency courts, as well as remotely, and are often used to claim less than £10,000 back for a faulty product, poor service or personal injury.

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

Ministry of Justice figures show the average time taken for small claims to go to trial in Wolverhampton County Court was 32 weeks between July and September. This was an increase on the average of 24 weeks between April and June, and the 31-week wait between July and September 2019.

At Walsall County Court, the average time was 42 weeks between July and September. It was an increase on the average of 32 weeks in the same period in 2019.

Dudley County Court bucked the trend, with the average time taken for small claims to go to trial at 26 weeks between July and September, compared to the average 34 weeks in the same period in 2019.

Across England and Wales, the average time taken for small claims to go to trial rose to 49 weeks – almost two months longer than the previous period.

The Law Society said there were already “significant backlogs” in the civil justice system after “years of underfunding and cuts to the courts”, but this has been made worse by Covid-19.

President David Greene said extended Covid operating hours may be suitable for some cases, but he is not convinced they have delivered any significant additional capacity.

He added: "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 reduce the backlogs in civil courts, we urge the Government to increase court capacity by opening additional Nightingale courts and ensuring the judiciary are well-equipped and encouraged to conduct hearings remotely where needed.”

The Ministry of Justice said more than 628 court rooms are open for civil and family cases, and it was rolling out new video technology, recruiting more judges and increasing sitting days.

A spokeswoman added: “Our world-leading response has kept the justice system running throughout the pandemic – urgent cases have been prioritised, remote hearings increased and extra courtrooms opened so cases can be heard as quickly as possible.”

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