The new-format bill of costs failed to deliver on expected benefits in the first case to see it used before the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO), a leading costs lawyer has claimed.
The new spreadsheet-based bill was used by the claimants in a case before the SCCO which settled last month.
Bradley Meads (pictured), senior associate at Kain Knight, which acted for the defendants in the case, told the Gazette that use of the new bill had increased the time spent dealing with costs by 100% – with the claimants having to spend 96 hours retrospectively applying ‘J-codes’ to the work that had been billed.
Meads said that while the dispute - which concerned whether or not the claimants’ lawyers should be permitted to exceed their budget - should have been straightforward to resolve, the use of the new bill ‘allowed a receiving party in effect to go back to the drawing board – ignoring all the work that was previously done when the case was budgeted’.
Meads said a recent Law Society survey had shown that very few law firms currently use the ‘J-code’ tagging system to record their costs. However, the new spreadsheet bill could not be populated correctly without using these codes – which then had to be retrospectively applied to the time entries.
Meads said: ‘The question must be, why does one need such a complicated system, and whether Precedent AA [the new-style bill] is in fact going to be a useful tool for the SCCO and other courts in assessing costs.
‘From the courts’ point of view, if the pilot [of the new bill] was meant to be a system which allowed the court to quickly come to a determination as to the costs to award a party, it failed.
‘Had the cost issues not settled, then the matter was due to occupy the court’s time for a three-day hearing, despite the fact that this was a case in which cost issues had been dealt with at a full Costs and Case Management Conference and a budget imposed by the court on the parties.
‘The experience showed that the new J-Codes are too complicated, that dealing with such costs is too labour intensive and that the time spent dealing with costs under the new scheme is at least 100% increased on what they would have been otherwise.’
The new bill of costs has been the subject of a voluntary pilot in the SCCO since October 2015, but this case is thought to be the first time that the costs courts have dealt with the new format.
Last month, Lord Justice Jackson called for the new bill to become compulsory by October next year, although the use of J-codes will not be mandatory.
The case settled before any judgment was given and the names of the parties cannot be disclosed.