HMCTS ponders AI solutions as probate delays soar

New data released by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has revealed probate delays increased by almost half during the month of April.

Specifically, the average timeline from submission to a grant of probate hit 15.5 weeks in April – nearly four months – having sat as 10.8 weeks the prior month.

The sharpness of this increase in delays – 44% month-on-month – is unlike anything seen over the last 12 months despite frequent fluctuations. The second-biggest increase was 11% between July and August of last year.

The 15.5-week average wait is also nearly double the 7.9-week wait seen as recently as July 2022.

Questioning the government on probate delays in the House of Lords this week, Lord Willis of Knaresborough asked “why applications for probate, which require no additional documentation, cannot be processed using artificial intelligence (AI) and completed immediately”.

This is something HMCTS is considering, confirmed justice minister Lord Bellamy:

“HMCTS is conducting an investigation to explore the potential applications of AI in the Courts and Tribunals, which raises important policy, ethical, legal, and social issues to be considered.”

A deeper dive into the numbers

While it is foreseeable AI might play some part in reducing backlogs in the not-so-distant future, delays are, for now, soaring across the board.

Of the 18,319 grants of probate issues in April, 13,573 – just under three quarters – were made digitally.

Average timelines between submission to grant increased for both stopped and non-stopped applications during the month. For the latter, average wait times increased by 17% from 17.7 weeks to 20.7 weeks.

Perhaps more surprising is that non-stopped digital applications completed in April took nearly twice as long on average as those completed in March – an increase of 98% from 5.1 weeks to 10.1 weeks. In November and December 2022, waiting times for such applications had fallen below a month (3.7 weeks).

This trend is reflected in the data for the 4,746 paper grants issued in April, with the average wait increasing from 21.1 weeks to 22 weeks.

For non-stopped applications, the wait increased from 16.4 weeks to 17.8 weeks. For those that encountered a stop, the wait increased from 29.3 weeks to 29.8 – comfortably over half a year, though slightly lower than the 30.6-week wait seen in February.

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