In its latest offering, “CLC COVID-19 Claims and Disputes in Construction” the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) predicts that disputes related to COVID-19 are set to rise in 2021. While the optimist may hope that parties will continue to or aim to work collaboratively in order to find workable commercial solutions to claims arising from the global pandemic, the realist knows that such disputes are inevitable.
At first glance, the Court of Appeal’s recent decision in ABC Electrification Ltd v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd  EWCA Civ 1645 might look like the culmination of an exercise in legal hubris. This was, after all, a case focussed on the meaning of a single word in a contract; moreover, a word – “default” – that most of us in the legal profession might say has a well-established meaning.
And, after several hundred thousand pounds of legal fees no doubt well spent, the Court of Appeal told the world that the word “default” means exactly what we all thought it meant – a failure to fulfil an obligation.
Requests by a party for disclosure of further documents is often a vexed issue, and the motives may in some instances be tactical, and inevitably it’s a costly affair. Recently, its been reported that the insurers for HCC International Insurance Company, PLC in its dispute with Roc Nation LLC (Rapper Jay-Z’s management company), has sought a motion before a New York federal judge seeking disclosure of documents from a UK Broker, and which will entail the discovery requests to be ultimately pursued via the process in the UK courts. Roc Nation has alleged that this is an attempt to “kick the can farther down the road”, and is objecting to the motion.
Last week we discussed, in light of the encouragement from Robert Jenrick MP (Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government) for the construction industry to remobilise, the government’s apparent reluctance to provide confidence and clarity for the construction industry in respect of the safe operation of sites.
In the Prime Minister’s address to the nation on 10 May 2020, he re-stated that encouragement for the construction industry, where possible, to return to work.
The construction industry in the UK has been afforded the freedom to continue work where it is safe to do so since the lockdown was implemented. It is a freedom that the sector has done its best to exploit where it can, with significant works continuing on a variety of essential and less essential projects. A number of leading construction companies and housebuilders have continued or recommenced work where they are able to do so, and a number of high profile projects are apparently progressing well. Build UK has reported that its members, who comprise some of the largest contractors operating in the UK, are now working on 73% of sites (up from 69% last week). However, the issues for the industry facing the prospect of full remobilisation to all sites have not changed.