Small claims cases took hundreds of days to go to trial in North Somerset last year, new figures show.

With civil cases across England and Wales taking more than a year on average to reach county courts, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers said the justice system is “fraught with delays, short-staffed, and with court buildings in a state of disrepair”.

Most civil court cases are small claims where a person is trying to get their money back for a faulty product, poor service or personal injury, when the sum involved is less than £10,000.

Ministry of Justice figures show the average time it took for such claims to go to trial between October and December in Weston-super-Mare County Court was eight months and three days.

This was nine days fewer than the same time the year before.

Jonathan Scarsbrook, president of APIL said: “While the pandemic has contributed to delays, it is not the sole cause. Delays have been on the increase for a long time.”

Overall, across England and Wales, it took longer than ever for small claims cases to reach court in the last quarter of last year – approximately one year and 26 days significantly up from eight months and 20 days in 2019 and a 9% jump from 2020, during the peak of the pandemic.

APIL is concerned the Government’s decision to introduce mandatory mediation for all small claims in the county courts could make delays even worse.

There were also significant delays in multi and fast track claims, which are used for more complex issues – rising from one year and 62 days between October and December 2019 to one year and 235 days in the most recent period.

In North Somerset people had to wait for one year and 237 days.

Law Society president Nick Emmerson said: “The Law Society has repeatedly expressed its concern about rising delays in the county courts, meaning many are not accessing justice.

“These delays can result in litigants suffering hardship because they cannot get the remedy they are entitled to, or in some cases dropping their claims, because they cannot afford to put more time and money into them.”

He also said cuts to legal aid meant more people were being forced to defend themselves in court.

“Clearly, proper investment in our justice system rather than decades of cuts would have meant the court service didn’t find itself in this difficult situation,” he added.

Across England and Wales, there were 8,000 small claims and 2,600 fast and multi-track cases waiting for a hearing in the last quarter of 2023. This includes 19 and four respectively in North Somerset.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are taking action to make sure civil cases are processed as quickly as possible, including the biggest ever recruitment drive for district judges.

“We are also digitalising court processes including remote hearings, increasing the use of mediation to resolve cases outside of court and training new staff to process more claims.

“This timeliness data relates to just 5% of the claims received by HM Courts and Tribunals Service, including a disproportionate number of complex cases.”