This month in the UK the Ministry of Justice published court statistics for England and Wales. These show for the first time the average duration of civil (and family cases) at County Courts (as well as Criminal Cases there too). According to the Ministry of Justice “These statistics, which support the case for a comprehensive reform programme across the justice system… This will enable the public to see how quickly cases are handled at their local court, and to compare it to other courts across England and Wales”.

The Ministry of Justice says these new statistics on timeliness demonstrate that in July to September 2011, on average hearings for small claims (under £5,000) in civil courts took place 30 weeks (more than 7 months) after the claim was originally made. For higher value cases the figure was over a year (57 weeks), which are dealt with by a different process.

From the Ministry of Justice’s statement “Ministers have already committed to a series of reforms to speed up the justice process. Measures include improved technology, more use of mediation to solve civil and family disputes, and simplifying processes to reduce delays and frustration for victims and witnesses of crime.”

Specifically on civil justice they say, “one of the measures in the Government’s proposals that were published last year was to give thousands more people the opportunity to consider telephone-based mediation as a simpler, quicker way to resolve their differences rather than going to court.”

The Government is due to publish its full (and anxiously awaited) response to the civil justice consultation shortly. Whilst the courts have done much in the past 15 years to modernise and streamline the civil justice system, the fact still remains that it is a longer and often more laborious task than pursuing the “alternate routes” of ADR.

The average mediation or adjudication can be set up and undertaken successfully in a couple of weeks, usually for a fraction of the cost of litigation. Indeed most mediations are a one-day or half-day process.

Gregory Hunt, Former Director of CEDR Dispute Services, said “In these cash-strapped times the delay and uncertainty in taking a case to court for both claimants and defendants can be the difference between liquidity and going bust. ADR offers a sane route to exploring, and most often securing, a commercial solution for commercial disputes rather waiting for a judicial hearing let alone an unknown outcome.”

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The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) is an independent, non-profit organisation with a mission to cut the cost of conflict and create choice and capability in dispute prevention and resolution.