Solicitors need to get to grips with the electronic bill of costs as soon as possible after the Civil Procedure Rule Committee decided that it will become compulsory in the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO) from October, the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) has warned.
At its meeting in May, the committee approved the new bill for detailed assessments, and subject to ministerial approval, its use will become mandatory in the SCCO from 1 October this year.
There was virtually no take-up of the original electronic bill, Precedent AA, after a voluntary pilot began in the SCCO in October 2015 following work done by the Hutton committee. In October 2016, the rule committee made amendments to the bill being used in the pilot, issuing Precedent AB, and allowing users to create their own versions so long as they include certain levels of information.
Despite this, the roll-out is happening in October even though since last year the SCCO has not dealt with a single electronic bill. It seems likely that only costs incurred after 1 October will have to be in the new format,
ACL vice-chairman Francis Kendall has said that time is short for solicitors to understand what is required.
“With such a focus on modernising civil justice, some form of electronic bill of costs is inevitable,” said Kendall.
“Done properly, it can offer significant benefits to parties, judges and lawyers alike. It is obviously a concern that the pilot did not deliver any data, and it may be that – as Lord Justice Jackson himself said last year – making it compulsory is the only way to change practice.
“But it also means that, initially, everyone will be flying in the dark to some extent, and there are bound to be teething problems. It is vital in particular that sufficient time is put aside for judicial training.”
Over the past year, the ACL has been working hard on its own, more workable version of the Excel-based bill that is intentionally far less rigid than Precedent AB.
Kendall added: “The new bill also represents a significant change for the costs profession, but we have been using our expertise to build a useable bill that will smooth the transition from paper bills. But there is no getting away from the fact that this represents a major change in the way litigators operate.”