Could law firms help tackle the probate backlog?
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Complex probate cases could be outsourced to specialist law firms to help cut the ongoing backlog of cases at the Probate Service, the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) has said.

The Society’s suggestion came in response to a call for evidence from Parliament’s Justice Select Committee, which last November began an inquiry into probate delays and the impact these are having on bereaved families.

That month, statistics from HM Courts & Tribunals Service showed the time from application submission to grant issue had reached 15.8 weeks, while the time taken from document upload to grant had hit 13.9 weeks – both record highs.

Also responding to the committee’s request, Emma Davies, president of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX), said staff numbers and expertise lay at the heart of the problem.

She added: “The Probate Service needs sufficient staff with the capacity, training and experience to handle complex cases, to deal with stopped applications and respond effectively to enquiries.

“The ongoing delays in the Probate Service are having a considerable impact on CILEX lawyers and their bereaved clients, causing stress and anxiety at an already difficult time in their lives.”

STEP has also proposed that Probate Service staff could be seconded to selected law firms for periods of several months to “gain experience quickly and better understand the types of issues that can arise” and how to solve these.

Alternatively, private practice probate practitioners could be “seconded to the probate registry for a fixed period so as to provide an instant (albeit temporary) boost to levels of expertise”.

According to a recent membership survey, six out of 10 STEP members believed delays in the probate process were the result of inexperienced staff struggling to handle complicated cases and passing them to more senior colleagues to complete.

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