E-filing roll out reaches SCCO

From this month, the new, e-filing procedure has come into effect at the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO) following a voluntary pilot last Autumn.

The new electronic procedure is mandatory from 20 January and means that from that date, all proceedings covered will be managed by the Costs Office through CE-File (and all documents filed from then on will be stored by it only on CE-File).

CE-File is the judiciary’s new electronic filing and case management system. It has been in use within the Chancery Division from October 2014. Since then, it has gradually been rolled out across the system. It allows users to issue claims, make applications, file documents and communicate with the court electronically at any time of day, all year round.

In the SCCO

The SCCO assesses the costs and expenses incurred in civil litigation for the purposes of determining how much a successful party in litigation can recover from its opponent, a barrister or solicitor can recover from public funds and how much a client should have to pay their solicitor. It also has power to reduce these costs and expenses if necessary.

From 20 January, documents sent to the Senior Courts Costs Office other than through the Courts Electronic Filing System (CE-File) will no longer be filed or issued.

Litigators and other relevant staff should also note that in October 2019, the Senior Costs Judge issued a practice note on electronic working in the Senior Courts Costs Office.

Under the rules, legally represented parties (this includes lawyers representing themselves in criminal costs appeals and professional deputies appointed by the Court of Protection) must only upload documents to the court file using CE-File in the following cases:

  • Detailed assessment proceedings in which a request for a hearing is filed on or after 20 January 2020
  • Applications filed on or after 20 January 2020 (whenever the proceedings were commenced)
  • Part 8 claims commenced in the Costs Office on or after 20 January 2020
  • Assessment of legal aid bills filed on or after 20 January 2020
  • Assessment of the bills of deputies appointed by the Court of Protection filed on or after 20 January 2020
  • Criminal costs appeals filed on or after 20 January 2020

A litigant in person can also use the CE-File process if they wish to from 20 January. Also, and any party can choose to upload documents to the court file using CE-File in other cases falling between 7 October 2019 and 19 January inclusive.

The Practice Note gives guidance on other areas of electronic workings in the SCCO including the format of documents, transferred cases and applications.

The process

Court users can file documents electronically direct to the court file by logging on to efile.cefile-app.com. The information entered on the system is secure with a “high-level” of built-in security based on roles and confidentiality tags.

Head of the Court of Protection, Paul Cruickshanks, has usefully outlined the required procedure. Bill bundles must be submitted electronically and payment of the assessment for (£85) can be made via a firm’s PBA account or by card. The documents will then be reviewed and the submission will be “approved” (notification of this will be given).

You will be given a court reference number and you must then lodge the files with the court. Bills will then be assessed in the usual way and emailed back via the account. Your files will be returned to you in the usual way. Firms can set up a team so that assessed bills can be emailed back to the team following assessment.

There is very useful formal guidance and support for users of the CE-File on gov.uk including (for those who would appreciated a step-by-step introduction) a simple ‘user guide’. To start the process, the guidance sets out the initial steps:

  • Access the CE-File system and register for an account.
  • Select the correct court and enter details of a new case or search for an existing case.
  • Explain what is being filed and upload the claim form or documents in Microsoft Word or PDF format.
  • Pay the necessary fees.

Once it is accepted, a case number will be created and you will be notified of it in CE-File and via email (in the CE-File this will appear in the top right corner).

Rejections

If there is an error in filing or submission, it will be rejected. Typical reasons for rejecting a filing are incorrect completion of forms, incorrect scanning of documents, incorrect fee paid or failure to send the right supporting application. In these circumstances, the guidance indicates that if your file is rejected and resubmitted the next day it will be sealed with the date you resubmitted the document - and to contact the court if this happens.

Note that documents can be amended after filing.

What does this all mean?

This is a further step in the wide-scale digitalisation of court processes and procedures and, concedes Cruickshanks, “a step in the right direction”.

 

 

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