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Cases taking 19 months to get to appeal court owing to backlogs

11th Mar 2016

Cases are taking up to 19 months to reach trial in the court of appeal due to increasing courtroom backlogs, according to Lord Justice Briggs, the judge in charge of introducing online justice.

Addressing a conference on commercial litigation organised by the City law firm Addleshaw Goddard, Briggs said: “There is a 19-month backlog for cases to be heard at the court of appeal.

“There is an inquiry into the delays. We are looking at whether to have more court of appeal judges or whether to have more high court judges deputising for them.”

There are traditionally 38 court of appeal judges in England and Wales. Briggs’s assessment of the length of delays in the higher courts reflects a rapidly deteriorating problem; last summer, the delays were said to be just over a year.

Briggs suggested a future of paperless hearings could lead to more cases being listed outside London.

He said his review would, for the first time, examine how long it takes judges to complete cases. The introduction of online courts, which will develop more investigative rather than traditional adversarial methods, would also speed up the processing of claims.

However, the development of online justice for cases involving claims of less than £25,000 will inevitably require state funding to provide help for those unskilled in completing complex online applications, the judge cautioned.

Around £730m is already being provided by the Ministry of Justice over the next four years to drive through digitisation of the legal industry.

The advent of online justice would not be cost-free, the judge warned. The commonly accepted figure of only 10% of the population never going online was likely to be an underestimate of the proportion of the population who would need help if they sought justice via the web.

“The government will have to provide, at taxpayers’ expense, a system of assistance to people with computer access difficulties,” Briggs explained. “I don’t regard a telephone helpline as going the whole way by any means. HMCTS [the courts service] is well aware of the need to deploy digital help.”

The programme to introduce paper-free hearings is running in parallel with the development of online courts.