Supreme Court revamps pilot plan

THE SUPREME Court Taxation Office has launched a revised version of its pilot scheme for a radically faster and cheaper taxation process, after the failure of its first scheme last year.

The SCTO dropped elements that had triggered concern among lawyers and which led to an almost non-existent take-up of the earlier scheme.

The pilot will be run in London for High Court cases for 12 months, and possibly later in Bristol and Liverpool where solicitors have already expressed interest, prior to it becoming compulsory nationally.

Taxing Master Christopher Wright, who worked with Chief Taxing Master Peter Hurst on the revamped scheme, says: “I'm very happy with it. We have been able to simplify it and get rid of quite a lot of the things people were worried about.”

Most importantly, the SCTO has dropped the disclosure provision, which allowed inspection by the paying party's solicitors of the receiving party's documents and caused almost universal alarm among lawyers.

What remains is the central idea that the parties' solicitors should work together to agree non-contentious aspects of the bill and then provide written objections to the SCTO.

Taxing fees should be lower and taxation quicker, because the Masters would have far less to do on individual cases.

Both the Law Society and the London Solicitors Litigation Association (LSLA) welcome the new scheme, and the society says it may help promote it. Michael Seymour, LSLA president, says: “I'm hopeful this one will fly.”

Suzanne Burn, secretary to the society's civil litigation committee, says the society is pleased the taxing office has dropped an earlier proposal allowing the paying party to have access to the other party's file.

The LSLA will monitor feedback from its members. Seymour says his own firm Lovell White Durrant is keen to try the revised scheme.

The disclosure provision, involving privileged information, was the most troubling part of the original scheme. It was rejected by senior litigators in London and the City as impractical and open to abuse.

Personal injury lawyers feared that defendant companies could wreck multi-party actions, while Commercial Court specialists warned corporate clients would resist commercially sensitive information being disclosed and that foreign multinationals could be driven away to use other jurisdictions.