ACL urges calm as electronic bill of costs comes into force

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The electronic bill of costs becomes compulsory in the county court and Senior Courts Costs Office from today, prompting the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) to urge solicitors not to ignore or be scared by the change, even though significant teething problems are likely.

The rules on the new bill apply to all multi-track claims, except those in which the proceedings are subject to fixed costs or scale costs, where the receiving party is unrepresented, or where the court has otherwise ordered.

It is in the form of Precedent S, although practitioners can use any other spreadsheet format so long as it meets the requirements of Paragraph 5.A2 of revised Practice Direction 47. They can choose how to present any work done before 6 April 2018—that is, in the old or new format—but any work done from today must be an electronic bill.

But there is a get-out clause, according to the ACL. Either on application by the parties or of its own motion, the court can disapply the requirement for an electronic bill.

ACL chairman Iain Stark commented: “We are concerned that some judges have yet to receive training and/or the technology to view the bill from the bench, so this could initially be a popular course.”

“The reality is that some firms of solicitors are ready for ‘E-Day’, and have adopted the J-Codes model of recording work by phase, task and activity. Others still work from paper files. It will be a bumpy ride for them at first.”

ACL council member Claire Green has been leading the association’s work on the electronic bill, and said the new bill will be a work in progress for some time, for judiciary, practitioners and the rule committee alike. The practice direction is likely to need updating quickly.

She added: “The new bill will change the whole ethos and environment we’re working in, and we are concerned that too many people seem unaware of what’s coming.”

Work in progress includes the ACL’s version of the bill, with its technical team currently updating version 16.

Green described Precedent S as “very complicated”, saying that she is working towards “getting everyone to use the ACL bill”, although any format that complies with certain requirements is acceptable.

The new bill is one of the last of Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendations to be implemented, and the judge himself said recently that it was bound to save time and costs.

“I predict that in three years from now people will be amazed that we had put up with the old paper-based bill for so long,” he said in his final speech before retirement last month.

Stark concluded: “It is inevitable that there will be teething problems—in all likelihood significant ones—with such a huge change to the world of costs. It happened before, with the Woolf reforms, and everyone survived.”

“None of the problems will be insurmountable. For us, it’s about getting the message out that Costs Lawyers stand ready to help—solicitors should not be scared of this.”

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Mark Dugdale is the editor of Claims Media. Mark welcomes articles, letters or feedback from readers and can be reached via mark.dugdale@barkerbrooks.co.uk