Court backlogs have increased by an average of one-third during the pandemic, new report finds

  • Print

covid and gavel

Image from Shutterstock.

The average case backlog for state and local courts across the United States increased by about one-third amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report released this month from Thomson Reuters.

The company’s survey of more than 238 judges and other court professionals found that the average backlog in U.S. courts before the COVID-19 pandemic was 958 cases. The average backlog increased to 1,274 in the last year, according to report, titled The Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on State & Local Courts Study 2021.

Overall, about one-third of U.S. courts saw their case backlogs increase by more than 5% in the last year, and another 23% saw their backlogs increase by 1% to 5%, the report found. Altered operations and delayed proceedings because of court closures as a result of the pandemic contributed to the increase in backlogs, according to the report.

“Even in the best of times, the nation’s courts consistently battle case backlogs for a variety of reasons,” the report said. “When you add a public health crisis into that equation, it is easy to see why the backlog situation may become much more difficult to manage.”

However, the survey indicated that most court professionals don’t anticipate the trend of increased backlogs to continue.

About 42% reported that they expect a decrease in their backlog in the next year, while 32% don’t anticipate any changes. Just 8% of courts expect an increase in their backlog in the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, the report also provided several statistics about remote hearings, which courts have used to try to address their backlogs.

A total of 93% of survey respondents said they were involved in conducting or participating in remote hearings in 2020, while 89% are currently doing so in 2021. Of those currently participating in remote proceedings, nearly two-thirds are conducting trial and pretrial hearings online, according to the report.

“Judges, court staff and attorneys have risen to the occasion, adopting new technologies and finding innovative ways to keep the daily operations of civil and criminal court moving,” said Steve Rubley, president of the government segment of Thomson Reuters, in a press release. “The report findings show that many of the pivots made during the last year and a half will far outlive the pandemic, furthering access to justice for those that need it most.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.