Lord Justice Jackson has suggested a new format of bills of costs could be mandatory for all work by October 2017.
Speaking at the Law Society's Civil Litigation Section conference on Thursday, Jackson said the current system was outdated, time-consuming and unfit for purpose.
The Hutton committee created the bill of costs last year with automatic generation of electronic time records incorporating standardised J-Codes – standard codes to categorise work.
A voluntary pilot was started in October 2015 and is set to last until December 2016 following intervention from the civil procedure rule committee (CPRC).
Jackson said the CPRC was right to be cautious but there was now ‘deadlock’ affecting the professions and judiciary.
‘The CPRC should choose a future date for the implementation of the new bill,’ said the appeal judge, suggesting October 2017 as the date. ‘Work done before this date may be recorded in the old system and with the old format bill.
‘Work done after this date should be done in the new format bill. There will be no retrospective imposition and no need to go through historic information.’
Jackson said this practical solution would preserve the work of the Hutton committee, albeit with references to the J-Codes removed.
He said criticisms about the expense, time and complexity of the new bill of costs were largely unfounded.
Solicitors were not required to pay for expensive new time-recording software and would only need relevant codes. He accepted the new bill may take considerable time to apply retrospectively, but the reform could be made in a way that avoids the need to restructure past records of work done.
‘Regardless of whether this particular proposal is accepted or not, one thing does need to be kept in mind: the status quo is of no benefit to anyone,’ added Jackson.
‘Investment decisions on time-recording software are being deferred. The work of the Hutton committee has been left to lie fallow. Most egregiously, we still have a bill of costs that was identified as being seriously deficient many years ago.’