From 01 October 2017, the new electronic bill of costs will become mandatory in the Senior Court Costs Office (SCCO). Representatives from HM Courts and Tribunals are meeting with the Hutton Committee (the working party set up to develop the new bill of costs) to discuss the implementation of the bill in other courts.
The idea of a new electronic bill was that of LJ Jackson, who likened the current bill of costs to “the style of a Victorian account book” and criticised it for making “it relatively easy for a receiving party to disguise or even hide what has gone on”. (Keynote address to the Law Society’s Civil Litigation Conference on 21 April 2016)
Therefore, the new electronic bill of costs, in theory, will be more transparent. It will only apply to costs incurred after 01 October 2017, and it should work in unison with time management systems to enable the transfer of work, which has been previously assigned to certain phases, into an easy to follow spreadsheet of data.
In the new bill of costs, time is entered by “phase”, “task” and “activity” (click here for descriptions). For those who record time via an electronic system, it is essential that work is accurately recorded to enable transposition into an electronic bill of costs. If successful, this will satisfy LJ Jackson’s intention that the new bill must be inexpensive to produce.
The Hutton Committee had initially proposed the compulsory use of J-Codes (an international standard for e-billing), where fee earners would allocate their work to a certain J Code, which could then be imported into an electronic bill. However, this was revised to optional use given the potential expense to firms who did not run a time management system utilising J-Codes.
The good news is that for those firms who do time record using J-Codes, they will be compatible with the new electronic bill.
What happens if you don’t have a time recording system? A skilled costs expert will still be able to prepare the bill of costs from a file that has not been subject to time recording, albeit, this will be more time consuming and hence more expensive to prepare.
What can I do now?
Civil litigators can start by practicing the art of accurate time recording. Rather than leaving an item blank or unassigned, if a litigator can, at the time of undertaking the work, select the relevant phase, task and activity, it will significantly speed up the preparation time of the electronic bill.
The “phases” used in the electronic bill of costs mirror those of a precedent H, which should result in synchronicity and satisfy LJ Jackson’s agenda that “the long-term aim must be to harmonise the procedures and systems which will be used for costs budgeting, costs management, summary assessment and detailed assessment”. (As above)
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