Practitioners have been warned that they can no longer ignore the electronic bill of costs, which now seems certain to become mandatory in the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO) and county courts on 6 April 2018.
The initial plan was that it would become compulsory in the SCCO alone this week, but in June the Civil Procedure Rule Committee delayed it until 2018 so that it could happen across the board.
Speaking at the Costs Law Reports Conference in London last week, Alex Hutton QC of Hailsham Chambers – who heads the committee overseeing the new bill format – indicated that there would be no further delay.
“The Civil Procedure Rule Committee has accepted the principle that the new bill will not be widely used until its mandatory,” he said. “The Ministry of Justice is behind it and all are agreed on the 6 April 2018 transition date.”
This view was echoed by the Senior Costs Judge, Andrew Gordon-Saker, who pointed to the latest update to the CPR, which came into force on Sunday.
The amended rule 47.6 now provides for the filing of electronic versions of the bill of costs, while an amended Practice Direction 47 will be published – probably by the end of the year – as part of the practice direction making document supporting the rule changes.
Mr Hutton said the practice direction would require electronic bills for part 7 multi-track claims except for cases in which the proceedings were subject to fixed costs or scale costs or cases in which the receiving party was a litigant in person, or cases where the court has made another order, and where the bill related to costs recoverable between the parties for work undertaken after 6 April next year.
The bill would have to either be in the form of Precedent S or any other spreadsheet format which reports and aggregates costs on
Chief Master Gordon-Saker said the new rules would apply to provisional assessments but, for now, not legal aid claims or Solicitors Act assessment.
For cases which straddle 6 April 2018, parties could submit a paper bill for the work done before that date and electronic bill for the time after then, “but frankly we are working possibly on the false assumption that if you’ve got to prepare an electronic bill, you’re probably going to do it for the whole case rather than just a bit of it”.
Over the next two years, the judge said, the SCCO would go completely digital and everything would be handled electronically.