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New inquiry: Justice Committee launches new inquiry on the work of the County Court amid capacity and resource concerns

26 October 2023

The Justice Committee has today launched a new inquiry to examine the work of the County Court amid long-standing concerns over court capacity and resources.

It comes as data on the work of the County Court shows the time taken from claim to hearing continues to rise.   

In its 2022 report, the cross-party committee of MPs called on the Government to provide the “resources to ensure that the County Court has the capacity to deal with cases in a timely fashion”.   

The report also urged the Government to set out what steps it is taking to reduce delays in the County Court and to improve the judicial, physical, digital and staff capacity of the County Court.

But the Civil Justice Statistics Quarterly for April to June 2023, published on 7 September 2023, shows the average time taken for small claims and multi/fast track claims to go to trial was 52.3 weeks and 78.2 weeks - one week longer and 2.8 weeks longer than the same period in 2022.

Compared to 2019, these measures are 15.7 weeks longer for small claims and 19.1 weeks longer for multi/fast track claims. In September this year the Association of Consumer Support Organisations started a new campaign to reduce delays in the civil justice system.  

During the inquiry, the Committee will take evidence from both claimant and defendant firms, a range of representative bodies and NGOs, plus the Civil Justice minister Lord Bellamy KC.

Chair's comment

Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill said:

“The Justice Committee has held long-standing concerns over the resourcing and capacity of the County Court and made strong recommendations to this effect in its 2022 report.

“More than a year on, claims data shows the situation is worsening not improving and it’s right the Committee examines this deterioration and takes evidence from those impacted by delays, staffing levels, access, as well as other issues.

“The work of the County Court shouldn’t be the Cinderella of the justice system. It affects a significant proportion of the public, who rely on it to deliver justice. If it doesn’t have the resources it needs to function effectively then it will have a real impact on people’s lives, as well as on the economy.”

Terms of Reference

The Committee is launching a call for written evidence on the work of the County Court.

The Committee invites evidence submissions by Thursday, 14 December 2023 on: 

  • What the current level of delay in the County Court is; the extent of any regional variations; and the effect of delays on litigants and the administration of justice;  
  • The ways in which the County Court engages with litigants in person, and how this could be improved;  
  • The accessibility of the County Court for people with disabilities;  
  • The condition of the court estate, and its effect on the work of the County Court; 
  • The use of technology in the County Court and how it could be used to improve the service provided by the County Court; 
  • The effect of the court reform programme on the County Court, including the new Online Civil Money Claims service and the Damages Claims service; 
  • The current level of fees and the approach taken to costs in the County Court, and how the fees collected are used as part of the current funding arrangements for the County Court;  
  • Whether there is sufficient judicial capacity in the County Court, and current steps to improve judicial capacity;  
  • Whether there is sufficient staffing of the County Court; 
  • The causes of action giving rise to claims in the County Court; 
  • The current procedural mechanisms used by the County Court to resolve disputes; 
  • The quality of data available on the work of the County Court; and 
  • What future reforms to the County Court should be considered. 

Further information