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High Court dispenses with electronic bill

Electronic bill: Unlikely to assist judge

A High Court judge has relieved a claimant who won a trial in January from having to produce an electronic bill for the work undertaken since 6 April 2018.

The electronic bill is compulsory for all work done after that date, but judges have the power to waive the requirement.

In Assetco Plc v Grant Thornton UK LLP [2019] EWHC 592 (Comm) [1], a professional negligence claim that saw the auditor defendants ordered to pay damages of £22m, both parties told Mr Justice Bryan that preparing an electronic bill would be a time consuming and costly task.

He recorded: “It would also make, it is said, little sense, firstly, as these proceedings were not subject to costs budgeting; secondly, the electronic version of the bill in the new form would only apply to work done after 6 April 2018, and, therefore, it is not likely to be of great assistance to the costs judge if the court were provided with two separate costs bills in different formats.”

The judge said: “I consider that in the circumstances of the present case, where the case has substantially been undertaken prior to [6 April 2018], and given the costs implications when measured against the likely benefits to the costs judge, this is an appropriate case where I should otherwise order and, therefore, the parties are not required to submit costs bills.

“It effectively means that AssetCo is not required to submit costs bills in the new electronic format for the reasons that I have given.”

Meanwhile, a two-year voluntary pilot scheme started yesterday that introduces electronic time recording to any cases where costs are to be summarily assessed, regardless of when proceedings began.

There are two new N260 forms: N260A, for interim applications, and N260B, for costs to trial.

For the N260A, detail of activity and communication method is required, but not by phase. The N260B features costs by phase and activity, supported by a Precedent Q (budget comparison document).

For both forms, a supporting document schedule must have dated entries, bringing it in line with the bill of costs.

Practitioners have questioned whether the new forms require too much information for a summary assessment, and why the rules allow parties to deliver the N260 in a paper or PDF format, rather than electronically.