Costs News

30 July 2020
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Gordon-Saker: Video and phone hearings will continue at SCCO after coronavirus

The Senior Costs Judge has made clear that video and phone hearings will be a greater part of the future of the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO) even once social distancing requirements are removed.

Andrew Gordon-Saker’s message to the ACL came as he issued a practice note on the conduct of proceedings at the SCCO that also stresses the value of filing papers electronically.

The practice note says hearings will continue as remote, part-remote and in-person, depending on the view of the costs judge or officer.

In his message, he said: “As the requirements for social distancing ease, the balance will tip away from remote hearings towards more in-person hearings. But even when all social distancing requirements have gone, I anticipate that we will nevertheless make greater use of video and phone than we did before the lockdown, in particular for short hearings.”

The judge told the ACL that SCCO staff “have been truly magnificent and have kept us going through the lockdown. Our public counter has been open and manned throughout. Most practitioners have also stepped up, adapting to new ways to enable us to hear cases remotely, and I am very grateful to them.

“As a result, and with the timely arrival of electronic filing, we have managed to hear almost all of the cases listed and have adjourned very few.”

He acknowledged that there have been administrative delays in individual cases and that there was currently a delay with Court of Protection (CoP) bills. “But it is far better than it could have been. One consequence of the Legal Aid Agency taking in the assessment of legal aid bills (a decision which was not of our making) is that we should be able to devote more resources to CoP work.”

The judge said lockdown has accelerated changes which were coming anyway. “In particular, we are much more adept at using video and we now have better tools for receiving and manipulating electronic bundles.”

The practice note also stresses the value of filing papers electronically. “Experience has shown that hearings work much more efficiently where the receiving party has filed its papers electronically.

“Parties are encouraged, therefore, to file their papers in support of the bill electronically whether or not they have been working paperlessly. Where the receiving party’s solicitors have been working paperlessly, it is unlikely that the cost of printing their files will be recoverable”.

The SCJ told the ACL: “The days of everybody sitting in court waiting for the receiving party’s representative to find the elusive attendance note of a particular conference in an unknown file in one of dozens of boxes really should have become a thing of the past a long time ago.”

On provisional assessment, the SCCO will follow the practice in the county court, meaning the receiving party should not file papers with the bill unless expressly requested by the court; it may ask for papers only in relation to particular items. Again, parties are encouraged to file them electronically.

Master Gordon-Saker added: “We have noticed an increase in work coming into the SCCO during the lockdown and the indications are that litigation will pick up very quickly.

“We are also getting on with other things. Work has resumed on guideline hourly rates for next year and also on the electronic bill for the Court of Protection.”

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