It was widely reported last week that the number of small claims hearings has dropped by over 50 per cent in the last five years. Figures have been reported showing there were 29,577 hearings in 2013 compared to 53,248 in 2007.
A well-known consortium of about 100 solicitors’ firms has suggested that the reason for the drop in claims is due to the process becoming more expensive and much lengthier.
The average wait from submitting a claim form and final hearing took about thirty one weeks. This is not far off the target timescale for a claim allocated to the Fast Track! This is unlikely to improve as more claims are allocated to the Small Claims Track following the raising of the financial limit of the track from £5,000 to £10,000.
Things may well not be set to improve on the costs front either. From 22 April 2014, fees for cases allocated to the Small Claims Track are set to almost double. This is likely to make many think twice before commencing legal action, and given the lack of widely-available, inexpensive and good quality ADR services, justice may suffer as people do not seek any form of legal redress.
Whilst the more forward-thinking lawyer would see this as a gap in the market, the effective privatisation of a significant number of smaller civil claims, is perhaps one step too far in this Government’s laudable march towards the shrinking of the State.