The wait is over, the future is here! The Victorian Account Book (also known as the current paper bill of costs) is to be consigned to history. The future is bright, the future is one of the various shades of green used in the Excel logo colour palette. Bob Hanlon, Costs Lawyer & Advocate, takes a closer look.
The electronic bill is to become mandatory in the SCCO and County Courts on 6 April 2018.The electronic bill must be used after that date where the case is a Part 7 multi -track claim except for:
- Where the case is subject to fixed or scale costs;
- Where the receiving party is a litigant in person; or
- The court has ordered otherwise.
The initial plan of a voluntary pilot scheme failed as there was virtually no take-up of the original version of the electronic bill (Precedent AA), after a voluntary pilot began in the SCCO in October 2015. 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. But since last year the SCCO has not assessed a single electronic bill, although it is understood that three had been filed.
The proposed amended rule 47.6 provides for the filing of an electronic version of the bill of costs. The amended PD 47 Schedule 2 is not yet published, but will hopefully be here by the end of the year. The practice direction supports the rule and sets out the nuts and bolts of the preparation of the new electronic bill in Precedent S or in any other spread sheet format which-
- Reports and aggregates costs based on phase, task and activity as defined in schedule 2 to the PD.
- Reports summary totals in a form comparable to Precedent S.
- Allows the user to identify in chronological order, the detail of the work undertaken in each phase.
- Automatically recalculates summary totals if input data is changed.
- Contains all calculations and reference formulae in a transparent manner so as to make its full functionality available to the court and all other users.
The electronic bill contains a narrative, a chronology, a summary of the legal team and rates and a summary of the bill structure. It also contains summaries of the base costs and additional liabilities separately and compares the costs in the bill with the last approved /agreed budget.
It aims to eradicate the need to prepare the bill in parts.
The bill is to be a self-calculating, self-summarising spreadsheet document based on J codes, with the stated aim of making it easier to deal with assessments where cost management orders have been made and budgets in form H have been filed and served.
Senior Costs Judge Gordon-Saker, speaking at the Law Society Commercial Litigation Conference on 16 October 2017, confirmed that the bill will be emailed to the court at the same time as lodging papers for assessment, together with the paper version.
Where a bill includes work carried out both before and after 6/4/18, a party can file and serve both a paper and electronic bill, though Master Gordon-Saker said: that:
“Frankly we’re working possibly on the false assumption that if you’ve got to prepare an electronic bill you’re probably going to do it for the whole case rather just a bit of it.”
Some tampering with associated rules will occur: the new rules would apply to provisional assessments and provisionally assessed bills will apparently be returned by email and the statement of parties will require an email address and not a fax number as it does at present.
The new rules would not apply to legal aid matters or Solicitor Act assessments, although it is envisaged that at some point in the future they would be brought within the scope of the rules.
Senior Costs Judge Gordon -Saker confirmed that in future the court will be paperless and acknowledged that work will be needed in relation to the filing of parties’ files of papers. At present there is no uniform system in place. Firms who have paperless files often print out their file and lodge it at court whereas others provide the court with a laptop or memory stick loaded with the files. It is expected that assessments will take place utilising the electronic bill on computer screens at court rather than the paper bill.
As ever, the aims of the electronic bill are admirable, though we will have to wait and see how it works in practice.
Some judges have privately expressed misgivings about the level of IT training given to the judiciary and, with understanding of the new bill likely to revolve around the use of pivot tables and other analytical tools, their concerns could prove to be well-placed if appropriate training is not properly rolled out.
Bob Hanlon is a Costs Lawyer and Advocate at Victoria Square Chambers.
To contact him on any of the matters raised in this blog, please email Bob.Hanlon@victoriasquar
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