There is very little enthusiasm among costs professionals for the new electronic format of the bill of costs, a survey by the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) has found.
There has been virtually no take-up of the original electronic bill, Precedent AA, since a pilot began in the Senior Courts Costs Office in October 2015 following work done by the Hutton committee. In October 2016, the Civil Procedure Rule Committee made amendments to the bill being used in the pilot, issuing Precedent AB, and said the aim was for a final version to become mandatory from October 2017.
The key change this autumn was to drop the requirement that users of the new bill had to apply the J-Codes to record time.
Nonetheless, a poll of 117 ACL members held after the changes found that half thought the new bill format was simply not needed, with 28% saying it would actually make things worse. Just 9% said they were getting used to the new bill, while a pessimistic 34% reckoned that however good it may be, solicitors were simply not interested in changing.
Some 57% of respondents said October 2017 was too soon for it to become compulsory and just one in ten Costs Lawyers expected the J-Codes change to improve the situation, while nearly half (48%) thought them dead in the water. A third (32%) predicted that some will still use the J-Codes, but said other approaches would be just as effective.
The ACL has launched its own, more workable version to introduce lawyers and judges alike to the possibilities of the Excel-based bill.
The ACL Bill of Costs takes into account comments made about the pilot version by members, SCCO masters and solicitors alike, which in broad terms indicated that Precedent AA was overly convoluted.
ACL chairman Iain Stark said: “Having analysed what is required under the practice direction, the ACL Bill is intended to be a more workable solution for a claim for costs. It is intentionally far less rigid than Precedent AB.
“For some members of the judiciary, costs lawyers and draftsmen, the ACL Bill will represent their introduction to the more advanced features of Excel. It allows them to hone the essential skills they will need as the civil courts continue to embrace technology to advance the services they provide.
“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. Nobody is better placed that the ACL to take the lead on this and we believe that the ACL Bill will smooth the path for what will be a major change in the way litigators operate.”