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The Wheels of Justice: Understanding the Pace of Civil High Court Cases

Principal Investigators:
Dr Bridgette Toy-Cronin and Prof Mark Henaghan

Project Staff: Dr Bridget Irvine and Kayla Stewart


Litigants often find court proceedings lengthy and lawyers usually warn their clients of the time it will take for cases to progress through the Court. But is undue delay in the High Court fact or fiction? This project seeks empirical evidence about just how long cases take, whether they stall, and if so,when and why? The final report will make suggestions for reform. The project is taking place in three phases: first, analysis of Ministry of Justice provided data on civil cases that were active during 2014-2015; second, a review of a sample of the physical, paper files held in the court to identify explanations for time taken for the case to progress; third, interviews with litigants, lawyers, court staff and judges to investigate factors that effect the pace of High Court civil litigation. This phase also has a survey for litigants, asking them about the personal costs in being involved in the litigation.

Related centre objective

“To carry out research on legal issues relating to how a more accessible, affordable and efficient legal system can be created for the benefit of all citizens”

Delays Project image - Legal filesProject overview

The results of this research are likely to be of high interest to the public, the Ministry of Justice, the judiciary and legal profession. A report of the project findings is due to be published online in Oct 2017.

The research questions are:

  1. How long does a civil case take to be resolved?
  2. How many files take longer than the average to resolve?
  3. How long should a civil case take to be resolved, depending on the nature of the proceeding?
  4. If cases “stall”, at what point(s) do this occur?
  5. Why do certain civil cases take longer to resolve than other cases? For example: (a) nature of claim; (b) case complexity; (c) legal culture; (d) finite court resources; (e) lawyer and litigant behaviour; (f) delays in judgment delivery.
  6. Does civil case progression in the High Court differ for different types of litigants: corporate, individual, self-represented?

Research updates

The project report was released on 27 November 2017.

Project outputs

View the list of project outputs