Last year, the Ministry of Justice published its statistics for judicial and court activity in England and Wales for 2014. In this note, we take a look at the 2014 figures and highlight emerging litigation trends.

Our own enquiries into professional negligence claims for the first three quarters of 2015 show that claims numbers are likely to be broadly similar to those for 2014 and 2013. We intend to follow this note with an update after the Ministry of Justice publishes its own figures for the whole of 2015 later this year.

The 2014 figures show that overall the volume of litigation dealt with by the Royal Courts of Justice in London dropped by 13% compared to 2013. This decrease was due primarily to a reduction in the number of claims in the Chancery, Commercial, Companies and Bankruptcy courts (the biggest falls being in the Companies and Bankruptcy courts). The number of claims in the Queen’s Bench Division increased marginally.

Queen’s Bench Division, London

In the Queen’s Bench Division, London (not including the Admiralty, Technology and Construction and Commercial Courts), the number of new claims increased by 231 to 5,417 (a 4.5% increase on the 2013 number). On the other hand, the number of new QBD claims designated as “negligence” cases (including professional negligence) dropped from 258 to 207. This is the lowest level since the peak in claims in 2009 when the figure was 362. By comparison, clinical negligence claims increased by 15%. The number of other tort claims (nuisance, trespass, assault, wrongful arrest) fell by 30% from 111 to 78. However, in contrast, defamation claims rose markedly from 142 to 227, up by 60%. Debt claims fell by 28% from 1037 to 743, the lowest figure within the last ten years. Debt claims made up 14% of total claims issued, a marked decrease from 2013, when the proportion was 20%. Breach of contract claims dropped by 29% from 891 to 633, continuing a downward trend after peaking in 2012. Both of these statistics are consistent with general improvements in the economic outlook.

Queen’s Bench Division, England & Wales

Across the whole of England and Wales (including London) 13,142 claims were started in the Queen’s Bench Division which is virtually static (an increase of less than 1%) compared to 2013. QBD claims hit a high of 18,583 in 2009 but since then have been on a downward trend.

Chancery Division

In the Chancery Division (excluding the Companies and Bankruptcy Courts), the number of new claims issued in London was 13% lower than in 2013 (4,843 compared to 5,546). However, professional negligence claims in the Chancery Division in London jumped from 99 in 2013 to 171 in 2014, an increase of 72%. This indicates that claimants are increasingly electing to bring professional negligence claims in the Chancery Division in London. There could be a number of reasons for this, including the excellent facilities at the Rolls Building and reports of delays in the Queen’s Bench Division, particularly in obtaining appointments for case management hearings. Across England and Wales (including London) 23,906 new Chancery Division claims were commenced, down 16% compared to 2013, and a drop of 50% compared to a 2008 peak.

Professional Negligence claims

Looking at the number of new professional negligence claims issued in London across both divisions together (balancing the drop in QBD with the increase in Chancery), the downward trend between 2010 to 2013 was arrested, with the number of new professional negligence claims in 2014 broadly the same as in 2013. Our review of new professional negligence claims issued during 2015, suggests that the trend of bringing professional negligence claims in the Chancery Division has continued this year, with around 140 new claims issued against solicitors, barristers and accountants firms in the Chancery Division in a nine month period to September 2015. The majority have been claims against solicitors. The equivalent number in the Queen’s Bench Division in London is approximately 85. If the same trend continued until the end of the year, the overall number of new professional negligence claims in London in 2015 across both divisions is likely to be broadly the same again as in 2013 and 2014.

Companies and Bankruptcy Courts

In the Companies Court in London there was a decrease in claims by 22% from 8,992 to 7,013, mirroring the decrease nationwide. Most of these were liquidation cases. The number of cases in the Bankruptcy Court in London fell from 8,510 to 7,014, a drop of 18%. Stronger economic conditions explain these falls.

Technology & Construction Court

Following an increase in activity of 7% in the Technology & Construction Court in London in 2013, claims increased again in 2014 but only by 1% from 446 to 451.

Commercial Court

In the Commercial Court, following a spike in 2011, when claims reached 1,331, the number of new claims dropped back. In 2014 the figure was 1,085, 9.5% lower than in 2013.

The Appellate Courts

In 2014, the workload of the Court of Appeal’s Civil Division increased as the numbers of final appeals filed rose by 11% to 1,269. The number of successful appeals dropped from 375 to 316. Of the appeals disposed of during the year, 71 were allowed and 139 refused. The number of such applications rose slightly compared to 2013 when there were 201 applications. The percentage of successful applications remained broadly the same. 60 full new appeals were presented to the Supreme Court in 2014 compared to 84 in 2013. Of the 52 appeals disposed of during 2014, 34 were allowed and 18 were dismissed. This was a greater proportion of successful appeals by comparison to 2013, when of 68 appeals disposed of, 32 were allowed and 36 were dismissed.

Costs assessments

Statistics for the Senior Courts Costs Office show that the number of costs assessments increased from 2,333 in 2013 to 2,895 in 2014. In 2012 the figure was as low as 1,067.

Comment

Given the improving economic climate, it is not surprising to see a drop in the overall number of new claims issued in 2014. Nevertheless, this disguises different trends in different areas. Defamation claims increased significantly (despite the introduction of the Defamation Act 2013 which introduced the requirement that a claimant to show serious harm), perhaps as a result of claims relating to social media, although reports suggest a drop in 2015. Personal injury and clinical negligence numbers also moved higher notwithstanding the changes to the rules relating to the funding of litigation for such cases introduced in 2013, indicating that at least for larger claims commenced in the High Court, those new arrangements have not had the effect of denying access to justice.

With regard to an area of particular interest, professional negligence claims, the overall volume of new High Court claims remained broadly steady in 2014 and into 2015 but with a marked increase in the number of claims brought in the Chancery Division. This is consistent with our own experience that the spike of claims resulting from the recession has largely worked its way through the Courts and that the number of new claims has settled back to a more consistent pattern. Adjudication of professional liability claims has not taken off (at least not yet) and while a significant proportion of claims are being resolved through the pre-action protocol, including by mediation, a steady stream of cases continues to reach the courts. We will update this note later this year, once further figures for 2015 are available.