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To conclude the series that looked to assess ‘What happened in January?’ it is necessary to reflect on the different hypotheses we tested. In doing so, we can then consider the complexity of economic life and whether, fundamentally, anything happened or in fact it was just a fall with no specific cause.

In the first hypothesis, we looked at Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service to assess whether any changes they made to the court process had made access to justice, for the claimant harder, thereby unintentionally causing the drop off in judgment numbers. The piece looked at the £1.2billion Reform Programme [1] which aims to make the court process ‘swifter, simpler and easier to access for everyone’ [2]. The main route to doing this was through digitalisation. The piece identified that whilst this would be advantageous for some, it could also be seen as a hindrance for other claimants. Overall, there was a balance between those positively and adversely affected, and unlikely to have caused a sudden fall in judgments.

Moving to the second hypothesis, geographical differences were considered to assess whether a specific region may be credited with the significant fall. By comparing judgment changes to changes in house prices, we drew the hypothesis that those areas with the greatest falls in judgment levels would also have high house prices. This was due to the assertion that high house prices indicate that an area, in general, is more affluent and therefore sees less financial vulnerability. In the initial comparison, there was a slight correlation between judgment density and weekly rent. Namely, the higher the judgment density, the lower the weekly rent. Further, when assessing the percent change year on year, all local authorities that saw a decrease in house prices between 2018 and 2019, saw an increase in the number of judgments issued in January 2019. However, this is not sustained between 2019 and 2020. Overall, therefore, the piece concluded that changes in house prices, as an indicator for economic wellbeing, were not a sufficient metric to ascertain whether the fall in judgments was due to area specific changes in economic circumstances.

Next we revisited work we had previously reviewed following the December 2019 General Election. We examined the hypothesis that, in combination with other contributors, the political changes seen due to the election may have caused greater changes in the number of judgments due to a period of political flux. It took the 57 constituencies that swung Conservative in the election and saw that these areas saw a greater fall in the number of judgments (39%) than that which was seen nationally (32%). In our previous work, there had been 10 rule breakers that did not follow the trends of the other 47 swing constituencies. In the context of January 2020, they also saw a fall in the number of judgments (34%) but it was more closely in line with the national fall. The drew the conclusion for the piece that political change may be associated with a greater decrease in the number of judgments, but as it is not limited only to areas that saw political change from the 2019 General Election, changes to judgment levels cannot be wholly attributed to political change.

Finally, we presented a historical piece which looked at judgment behaviour after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis which looked to highlight what the different rates of decline in different areas might mean in terms of financial vulnerability. It demonstrated that there is a relationship between financial difficulty and turbulent judgment numbers. Taking the example of Blaenau Gwent, Wales, it was seen how huge falls in judgments at the start of a crisis, explained by potentially tough application of rules by regulators amongst other things, is then followed by sharp uptakes in judgments as the economy hits the long-term recovery phase. We marked this as 2012 from judgment data evidence. So, whilst this blog was not testing a reason why, it was arguing that maybe this isn’t the question we should be asking. Instead we should be taking judgment data and looking forward to try and understand where and when financial hardship is going to be felt most across the UK. This is because judgment data is an important barometer to assess how the financial effects are being experienced across the UK.

This leads me to the concluding reflections for this series, and maybe the conclusion every data analyst, researcher, scientist fears: there is no one determining factor. A whole host of factors may have played a part in contributing to the fall in judgments. With any crisis it is the default to descend into a catastrophic mind-set whereby the worst is assumed. We want to find something to blame to have control in a time when control is almost removed from every citizen – looking for reasons allows us to better navigate space instead of just assuming that it just happens. However, as highlighted by Hypothesis 4, it would be more productive to look forward and to use previous experience to educate and to understand what might happen in the future, and where.

As a company, Registry Trust believe in and are driven by Public Data for the Public Good. During a crisis, such as the global pandemic we are currently experiencing, we think that now more than ever, it is essential to look forward and use data driven analysis to try and ensure that the hardest hit by the economic crisis that has followed the health one are identified early and supported immediately. We will be continuing our work in observing the unfolding crisis through judgment data and publishing regularly on this.

For now, if you want a first glimpse into judgment behaviour as a result of coronavirus, check out our monthly statistics we published. Or if you want to know more about how Registry Trust is coping with the changes brought about by Covid-19, check out our blogs from Gary, Projects Manager, Clair, Sales and Marketing Executive or Nina, HR and Compliance Officer who both offer their takes on how to adapt to the change

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[1] ‘Transforming Our Justice System’ By the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/553261/joint-vision-statement.pdf

[2] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/hmcts-reform-update-civil#