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‘J’ Codes and the New Bill of Costs – the debate hots up but is the patient terminal….?

J Codes and New Bill of Costs – the debate hots up but is the patient terminal?

Earlier this year the writer provided commentary on the progress of the implementation of the long awaited J-Codes and new Bill of Costs, noting that the process had been put on hold pending further consultation, considering it to be “…too soon…” for a full-scale roll out.

It would now appear that the battle-lines have been firmly drawn between Jackson LJ and the body tasked to review and formulate the new format of the Bill, the Hutton Committee.

In his latest speech to the Law Society, Jackson LJ stated (being careful not to be openly critical of the Hutton Committee and was “…right to be cautious…” in its findings) that the new Bill needed to be brought into use, but that the process was now in “…a state of deadlock…” in need of “….practical proposals…” to resolve it as “…the status quo is of no benefit to anyone”.

The J-Codes, since their first not so tentative or subtle introduction to the profession have, with a few exceptions, been almost universally criticised as unworkable, and Jackson LJ has now conceded that “…most – if not all – of the criticisms about the new format bill of costs are aimed at the J-Codes…” from which it is entirely evident (if it wasn’t before) that the Hutton Committee has been endeavouring to produce a well-rounded Bill format to fit into the square hole which the J-Codes occupy.

Jackson LJ has further conceded that the Bill produced by the Hutton Committee is a workable format without the mandatory use of the J-Codes, which would allow “…greater flexibility…” and that “The CPR should allow practitioners to prepare that bill in any manner of their choosing, whether with the assistance of J-Codes, automatically generated by an Excel spreadsheet or by hand.”

In support of his proposals, Jackson LJ gave three reasons

“The new format bill integrates with costs budgeting and Precedent H. It can be generated automatically by time-recording software. It provides a framework for software providers to create tools for the professions.

“Secondly, it makes good use of the excellent work of the Hutton committee. Indeed, it would not be possible without it. While revising the proposals will mean that the current version of the spreadsheet and the J-Codes are not an essential part of the scheme, their value will be preserved for those who adopt J-Codes… the professions should give serious consideration to them.

“Thirdly, it sidesteps much of the criticism which gave rise to the present delays. The print version of the bill and the accompanying spreadsheet are not radical innovations. Nor do they involve significant cost. They require only a basic level of computer literacy and an understanding of how to present information clearly.”

Whilst the implementation of the new format remains on hold due to the current deadlock, Jackson LJ’s enthusiasm for driving the scheme forward prompted his suggestion that the CPRC ought to consider a date to work towards, also addressing concerns from the profession as to whether such implementation would be retrospective, noting his “complete solution” as

“May I suggest that the new form bill of costs should be mandatory for all work done on or after 1st October 2017? The voluntary pilot under PD 51L could be extended until that date.”

although it is currently unclear as to whether the CPRC will take up the suggestion.

So, are the J-Codes mortally wounded?

If so, Jackson LJ still appears ready and willing to provide critical care to keep the patient alive as long as humanly possible, considering that they could be made compatible with current time-recording software with a “…relatively small amount of changes and costs…”.

He further did not agree that the Codes were complex, noting that

“While the Excel spreadsheet that creates the new format bill may look complex, the finished product is not… The triad of phases, tasks and activities provide for a high level of clarity and precision.”

nor that the J-Codes were too prescriptive, observing that

“Any proposal is going to have strengths and weaknesses – it should not be surprising that J-Codes have both. Happily, I am told that it was never intended to make J-Codes mandatory for the new bill of costs. The Hutton committee took the view, correctly, that it would be beyond its remit to do so.

“Nevertheless, the professions would be wise to give serious consideration to J-Codes. There are considerable advantages to using them. They make the process of drafting a bill considerably quicker, easier and cheaper, if J-Coding is done contemporaneously with the work carried out. The J-Codes help with the clarity and transparency of the new bill.”

Jackson LJ also provided a parting shot to those who might seek their own alternative schemes

“If the professions wish to create alternative time-recording standards or to present their billable time in another way, then the J-Codes represent the standard which they will have to equal or exceed.”

which would leave even the most casual observer to conclude that the J-Codes are not, as yet, in possession of a DNR.

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