More evidence on our overly litigious society

 

The Government has like to claim that one of the reasons the legal aid reforms are necessary is that we are too litigious. This year’s Judicial Statistics suggests the rather counterfactual nature of those claims. You can read the report here but the main findings taken verbatim from the report are set out below.

For those of you who want to skip the detail the position is that, with the exception of the administrative process of divorce itself (not really litigation in any normal sense), civil and family litigation is down across the board. I have previously criticised the Government for complaining about levels of litigation without evidence. These figures underline that complaint. Like crime, no matter what direction the figures are really going, levels of litigation are always somehow at crisis point. Crises of this kind, like moral panics, are there for a reason and the reason is not that litigation is on the up.

County courts (non-family)

The civil cases dealt with by the county courts (excluding family cases) typically relate to debt, the repossession of property, personal injury and insolvency. Since 2006, the total number of claims issued has generally followed a downward trend, while the number of defences made and trials/small claim hearings have remained relatively flat.

Key points for 2010

Some 1,617,000 civil (non-family) cases started in 2010, a fall of 14 per cent ••compared to 2009, continuing the general downward trend seen since 2006.

The fall in 2010, compared to 2009, was mainly due to decreases in specified ••money claims (typically related to debt issues) of 19 per cent, insolvency petitions of 14 per cent, and repossession claims of nine per cent, and was despite a six per cent increase in the number of unspecified money claims (typically related to personal injury).

There were 291,000 defences made in 2010, an eight per cent decrease on ••the previous year and the lowest since 2006.

Defended cases which are not settled or withdrawn generally result in a ••hearing or trial. In total there were 63,000 trials and small claims hearings in 2010, a fall of seven per cent from 2009 and lower than in each of the three previous years (from 2006 to 2008). On average small claim hearings occurred 31 weeks after the claim was originally made, the same as in 2009. Trials took place an average 50 weeks after the claim was originally made, up from 48 weeks in 2008 and 2009.

There were 447,000 applications for enforcement in 2010 (of which 279,000 ••were for warrants, and the remainder for orders such as for attachment of earnings which oblige the debtor’s employer to deduct a set sum from the debtor’s pay and forward it to the court). This was a decrease of 24 per cent compared with 2009 and of 37 per cent compared with 2008. These falls reflect the large falls in claims issued for a specified amount of money and repossession of property and also the large increases in court fees for enforcement applications since 13 July 2009.

54,000 repossessions of property were made by county court bailiffs, a fall ••of 14 per cent on the previous year and reflecting the decrease in repossession claims. 24,000 of the properties were on behalf of mortgage lenders, 27 per cent fewer than in 2009 and 34 per cent lower than the 2008 peak

Family matters

Family cases deal with issues such as parental disputes, child protection cases, divorce and separation, and cases of domestic violence. In 2010, there was an overall decrease in applications made in relation to matters affecting children. The number of divorces rose in 2010, a reversal of the recent downward trend seen in previous years.

Key points for 2010

Some 24,300 public law applications (applications for various court orders ••relating to the protection of children, which are brought by local authorities or the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) and 122,800 private law applications (applications for court orders which are brought by private individuals) were made in 2010, which were decreases of six per cent and 11 per cent respectively on the previous year. These follow the peaks observed in 2009 for the number of both public and private law applications.

24,400 public law applications were dealt with in 2010, in that an order was ••either made or refused or the application was withdrawn. Some of these will relate to applications initially received during the year, and some which were initially received in a previous year. Some 162,500 private law applications were dealt with during 2010.

There were 133,500 petitions for the dissolution of marriage filed in 2010, an ••increase of one per cent compared with the previous year. The number of divorces increased by five per cent to 121,300, a reversal of the recent downward trend and now reflecting the trend seen for petitions.

Around 24,100 domestic violence orders were made in 2010. This was a three ••per cent decrease on the number made in 2009 and gives a small downward trend.

Since being made available from 25 November 2008, a total of 257 Forced ••Marriage Protection Orders were made up to the end of 2010

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About Richard Moorhead

Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London with an interest in teaching and research on the legal ethics, the professions, legal aid, access to justice and the courts.
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