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Iain Stark, chairman of the Association of Costs Lawyers, was recently reported on the Legal Futures website, in connection with the plan to extend the provisional assessment pilot nationwide, as suggesting that provisional assessments should be handled by regional costs judges, or alternatively that regional costs officers should be appointed.
This is such a no brainer that I really can’t understand why it was not implemented long ago. As the number of detailed assessment hearings will start to decline with the introduction of the Jackson Reforms and roll out of provisional assessments the Senior Courts Costs Office could probably cover the whole of the South of England and a second court could cover the North. You would only need a handful of costs judges/costs officers in the Northern SCCO and the time freed up for other members of the judiciary would cover the “extra” costs of having dedicated judges. Indeed, it would almost certainly lead to an overall saving as full time costs judges/officers invariably deal with detailed assessment hearings much faster than those with little or no experience of costs. The time savings would be even more obvious for provisional assessments.
I’ve yet to meet a costs practitioner against this idea (although I suppose there might be one or two who would hate matters being moved away from their “friendly” local DJ and having the matter looked at objectively in a “neutral” court).
Such a move would bring a large(r) measure of consistency to costs judgments and enable costs professionals to give more accurate advice to clients, thus further reducing the number of cases that run the distance.
The system has worked perfectly well since all cases in London have been dealt with in the SCCO (allowing for the fact they are somewhat overworked at the moment) and would work equally well nationally.
What is there not to like?