The committee set up to decide the future of legal costs in civil litigation has recommended that a new of bill of costs based on electronic assessment should be in place from October.

But civil procedure experts have deferred a decision while the Ministry of Justice considers the impact of sweeping changes, it has emerged.

The Hutton committee, chaired by Alexander Hutton QC, responded at the end of last year to a range of concerns raised by solicitors about the new system.

The new bill of costs would be designed for automatic generation from electronic time records incorporating J-Codes, standardised codes created in response to the recommendations of Lord Justice Jackson.

In a document presented to the Civil Procedure Rule Committee last month, the Hutton committee said doubts have been expressed about the timing, accuracy and cost of the new format.

One consultation response suggested bill preparation time could increase by more than 200%, while other lawyers said they have waited to invest in new technology because of uncertainty about timing.

The Hutton committee agreed the move from paper to electronic assessment is ‘obviously a huge change’ which will require practitioners to invest in new infrastructure.

‘It is not in fact possible to "pilot" the bill of costs in any real sense,’ said the Hutton committee. ‘Practitioners cannot be expected to make the necessary investment if there is any likelihood of the bill of costs being abandoned.’

The committee said its preferred option was to introduce the bill of costs, except for litigants in person, on 1 October to allow sufficient time to purchase the software.

But the CPR committee, in minutes published yesterday from December’s meeting, has decided it is ‘too soon’ for any decision.

The minutes added: ‘It was acknowledged that the proposal went beyond a pilot and had major implications for the profession. It was agreed that the matter needed to be given careful further consideration by the MoJ and by the committee.’

The Hutton committee sought to ease some concerns about the new system, saying it ‘confidently expected’ those familiar with the use of spreadsheets to be able to handle the technology.

The importation of time-recording data into the new bill format, the experts said, should be ‘simple and quick’ and ensure that fee-earners record their time properly in future.

Claire Green, policy officer at the Association of Costs Lawyers and a member of the Hutton Committee, said: ‘In light of the majority of responses from our members to the suggested new format bill, the complex nature of the bill and associated practical implications that swift implementation would have caused, we are pleased that further consideration will be given to such an important issue affecting the entire legal profession.’

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