Costs lawyers are well placed to help out judges by taking on the role of delegated judicial officers (DJOs), their representative body has told the Briggs review.
In his review of the civil courts structure, Lord Justice Briggs is tasked with making recommendations for the deployment of DJOs, and the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) said its members were keen to support this “as a way of improving the quality and efficiency of the costs regime”.
However, the association cautioned that there would need to be investment to ensure the robust selection, supervision and review of DJOs.
DJOs would not be judges themselves, and their performance of low-level judicial functions would be under judicial supervision and subject to litigants’ rights of review by a judge.
The ACL said: “We support the broad principle that qualified and regulated legal professionals with expertise in particular areas of the law should be considered for appointment as DJOs to deal with matters within those specialist areas.
“Our members are particularly interested in this proposal, as they see themselves as ideally suited to perform the more routine, simple functions currently performed by costs judges. Our members have different levels of qualification and experience in all aspects of the costs environment. More importantly they have chosen to specialise in costs as their area of expertise, therefore they are passionate about the subject.
“Too often we hear reports of district judges who have no interest in costs, and that lack of interest follows through to the decisions made.
“Furthermore, costs lawyers have a breadth of experience across the wide range of areas in which our solicitor clients practice. Subject to training and supervision, there is no reason why suitably qualified costs lawyers could not be given general case management powers.”
ACL chair Sue Nash said: “We are conscious of the fact that to utilise costs lawyers in this way may be considered a radical step but would venture to suggest it is no more radical than some of the other reforms being contemplated. It would, in our opinion be a step in the right direction to creating a fairer and more efficient costs environment.
“Indeed, costs lawyers’ experience in case management is such that we would be well placed take on a broader role as DJOs dealing with matters beyond costs.”
The ACL said DJOs should have authority to resolve live issues, but that their authority to do so should be subject to training and to supervision and review. Supervision could be by a panel of regional costs judges, it added.
On other issues raised by the review, the ACL broadly supported the introduction of online courts – also recommending the inclusion of conciliation as part of the process – and said any restructuring of the civil courts, including the possible unification of the county court and High Court, should be delayed until the impact of DJOs and the online court could be assessed.