The new electronic bill of costs is set to become compulsory from 1 October 2017 despite virtually no take-up in two years of piloting at the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO).
The Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) reported that, at its meeting in May, the Civil Procedure Rule Committee approved the new bill for detailed assessments. Subject to ministerial approval, its use will become mandatory in the SCCO from 1 October 2017.
The committee is meeting with HM Courts and Tribunals Service to discuss implementation of the new bill in courts other than the SCCO and will report back at its next meeting. The changes to the CPR will be included in the next scheduled update in July.
There was virtually no take-up of the original electronic bill, Precedent AA, after a voluntary pilot began in the SCCO in October 2015 following work done by the Hutton committee. In October 2016, the rule committee made amendments to the bill being used in the pilot, issuing Precedent AB, and allowing users to create their own versions so long as they include certain levels of information.
But the roll-out is happening in October even though since last year the SCCO has not dealt with a single electronic bill (although three have been filed).
It seems likely that only costs incurred after that date will have to be in the new format, and ACL vice-chairman Francis Kendall said time was short for solicitors to understand what is required.
“With such a focus on modernising civil justice, some form of electronic bill of costs is inevitable. Done properly, it can offer significant benefits to parties, judges and lawyers alike. It is obviously a concern that the pilot did not deliver any data, and it may be that – as Lord Justice Jackson himself said last year – making it compulsory is the only way to change practice.
“But it also means that, initially, everyone will be flying in the dark to some extent, and there are bound to be teething problems. It is vital in particular that sufficient time is put aside for judicial training.”
Mr Kendall said that, over the past year, the ACL has been working on its own, “more workable” version of the Excel-based bill “that is intentionally far less rigid than Precedent AB”.
He added: “The new bill also represents a significant change for the costs profession, but we have been using our expertise to build a useable bill that will smooth the transition from paper bills. But there is no getting away from the fact that this represents a major change in the way litigators operate.”