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The Provisional Assessment Pilot, only one year into the two year pilot, has been hailed a success by Lord Justice Jackson (see Report on the Provisional Assessment Pilot). He recommends that it is rolled out nationally.
The scheme covers bills up to £25,000. The first thought is how are junior law costs draftsmen and costs lawyers going to gain advocacy experience if these bills are all assessed on paper (a similar kind of problem the junior bar faces with the loss of much low level advocacy to solicitors)? The second thought is how many bills under £25,000 will there be once fixed fees are extended across the fast-track? The third thought is have I got a big enough pension pot to consider early retirement?
The report advises there were 119 cases in the pilot during the first year. After provisional assessment only 2 cases proceeded to an oral hearing. In neither case did the requesting party achieve an improvement of 20% or more upon what it had secured in the provisional assessment. There’s a surprise.
The average time spent on each provisional assessment was 37 minutes and the median time was 40 minutes. Experience during the second year of the pilot suggests that where provisional assessment is carried out by a district judge who is not a regional costs judge (and therefore has less experience of assessing costs) 60 minutes should be allowed for the exercise. Make of that what you will.
The report found that the process is far cheaper for the parties than traditional detailed assessment, because (save in rare cases) they avoid the costs of preparing for and attending a hearing. DJs Hill and Bedford estimate that the savings for the parties are at least £4,000 per case. (Not a thought for the poor lawyers who find themselves out of pocket. It’s like trying to encourage healthy lifestyles without a thought for the doctors and nurses who may find themselves out of work as a result.)
It looks as though provisional assessment will be rolled out nationally at the same time as the other major costs reforms (currently October 2012 although there are some suggestions this may be pushed back to April 2013).
Sir Rupert’s recent lecture on Assessment of Costs in the Brave New World reveals a number of important forthcoming amendments to the CPR and Costs Practice Direction. I’ll deal with some of these in bite size pieces over the coming days.