ACL warns solicitors to prepare for electronic bill of costs

Rule committee sets October date for compulsory use in Senior Courts Costs Office

Solicitors will need to quickly get to grips with the new electronic bill of costs, after the Civil Procedure Rule Committee decided that it will become compulsory in the Senior Courts Costs Office from October, the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) has warned.

In a meeting this month, 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 2017. This is despite the SCCO having not dealt with a single electronic bill since 2016.

The ACL said it seems likely that only costs incurred after 1 October 2017 will have to be in the new format.

The committee is meeting with HM Courts and Tribunals Service to discuss implementation of the new bill in courts other than the SCCO and will report back at its next meeting. The changes to the CPR will be included in the next scheduled update in July.

There was virtually no take-up of the original electronic bill, precedent AA, after a voluntary pilot in October 2015 following work done by the Hutton committee.

In October 2016, the rules committee made amendments to the bill used in the pilot, issuing precedent AB and allowing users to create their own versions so long as they include certain levels of information.

‘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,’ said ACL vice-chairman Francis Kendall.

‘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.’

The ACL has been working hard on its own, ‘more workable version’ of the Excel-based bill, which the association claims is ‘intentionally far less rigid’ than precedent AB.

‘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,’ added Kendall.

‘But there is no getting away from the fact that this represents a major change in the way litigators operate.’

This article first appeared in the Solicitors Journal on 25 May 2017.

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07 Jun 2017

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