I thought that I would hail in the new year with an update on some interesting construction developments. Put it down to a period of reflection over the Christmas break! As I want to cover a number of areas, I have split this update into 2 postings.

In this first update, I am going to cover the latest FIDIC news and the new Bribery Bill currently going through the UK parliament. In my next posting I will look at two recent construction cases in English law, the first covering recoverability of damages and the English “remoteness” rule, the second covering treatment of contractual notice bars for claims.

Firstly, on FIDIC. I presented at the annual FIDIC conference in London in December of last year and can report some interesting developments:

FIDIC have just published a new Subcontract form (termed the Conditions of Sub-Contract for Construction). This is specifically designed as a construction only subcontract – to be used by main contractors operating under either the 1999 FIDIC Conditions of Contract for Construction for Building and Engineering Works designed by the Employer (known as the “Red Book”) or the Multilateral Development Bank’s Harmonised Edition of these FIDIC Conditions of Contract. The subcontract is drafted very much on the basis of a “total pass down of risk”, although there are some interesting features (particularly from an English law perspective).

For example, the payment provisions are effectively tied to payment under the “Main Contract” and include “pay when paid” clauses (Sub-Clause 14.6 (c)) in that the Contractor can withhold monies where “the Employer has failed to make payment in full to the Contractor in respect of those amounts…”. Of course, this protection will not apply where the reason for non-certification under the Main Contract is because of Contractor default or the Employer’s insolvency. Whilst common in subcontracts in Europe, any construction contract signed in England and Wales is subject to the UK Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act and this prohibits pay when paid provisions. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the market – readers will no doubt be conscious of the current harsher market conditions for contractors generally – so this may be more palatable to subcontractors in these straitened times. What it means in practice is that subcontractors will have to take a good deal more notice of what the main contract says about payment, and certification of payments, to ensure they are comfortable with these risks flowing down into their subcontracts.

As for other key features,

• Whilst the underlying principle is direct risk pass down, there is no general provision (as appears in many “pass-down” subcontracts) saying, for example, that the Sub-Contractor shall carry out the Sub-Contract Works such that he does not put the Contractor in breach of the Main Contract.

• The Sub-Contract assumes that the Main Contract will be the FIDIC Red Book and directly refers to Main Contract Clauses. Of course, the numbering will not necessarily work if the Main Contract is either not FIDIC or is an amended form of FIDIC.

• Not surprisingly, there are provisions allowing for immediate termination where the Main Contract terminates (Clause 15). Where the Main Contract is terminated for default the Sub-Contractor only gets the value of work and documents produced up to the date of termination (less amounts recovered by the Employer and any other losses and damages incurred by the Contractor and, notably in my view, its other sub-contractors). If not in breach, the Sub-Contractor gets paid the value of works/documents to date, demobilisation and reasonable repatriation costs, any other costs “reasonably incurred” in expectation of completing the Sub-Contract Works plus loss of profit. This is all fairly standard, although I suspect a number of main contractors may wish to curb the ‘loss of profit’ claim. However, the biggest potential issue is I think Sub-Clause 15.6. This allows the Sub-Contractor to terminate where there would be a right to do so under the Main Contract. The clause simply refers to the termination events in the Main Contract equally applying to the Sub-Contract. I query whether this actually works or makes the Contractor’s other termination rights sufficiently clear. It would be preferable to spell them out for such an important clause.

FIDIC is also proposing to issue a new user guide to accompany the Design Build and Operate form (Gold Book). Just to remind readers, the current form (first published in September 2008) covers design, build and long term operation of facilities on green field sites. The new guide will include provisions allowing this to be used for brown field sites. No doubt FIDIC hope that this will lead to a much greater use of the Book as most DBO projects involve some element of upgrade of existing facilities alongside new build. However, as this form is still in its infancy I am yet to hear from anyone who has actually used this form (- readers please get in touch if you have), it remains to be seen whether this will lead to wholesale take up of this new form. I think one reason for the lack of use so far may be that the form has no provision for funding by the Contractor and so is not suitable for PPP projects.

At the same time, FIDIC are proposing a review of all the contract forms in their current “1999 Rainbow Suite” (i.e. principally the Red, Yellow and Silver Books) and plan to amend these in line with current business practices and in response to request for amendments over the last decade. For example, one likely amendment is to include the amendment FIDIC has already made to Sub-Clause 20.1 in the DBO form dealing with the procedure for Contractor’s claims. Just to recap, Sub-Clause 20.1 has always been a sticking point for contractors as it essentially precludes any entitlement to claim for time/money if the conditions of this clause are not strictly complied with. What the Gold Book has introduced is a slight relaxation of this absolute notice bar, allowing the Contractor to apply to the Dispute Adjudication Board for a ruling if he considers there are circumstances which justify the late submission of a notice. If the DAB agrees that in all the circumstances “it is fair and reasonable that the late submission be accepted”, it can overrule the 28 day notice limit.

FIDIC canvassed views at our London conference as to what other clauses should be amended. There were a number of requests for a review of the variations clause (Sub-Clause 13) and in particular to the right of the Contractor to payment for value engineering changes. Currently under all the forms, the Contractor bears the cost of any proposal and only if it is accepted by the Employer, does he then get remunerated. This has always been something of a disincentive to propose value added changes.

Before signing off on this first update, I would like to touch upon the Bribery Bill 2009 which is currently going through the UK Parliament. The reason this has been introduced is because the UK has come under foreign criticism from the Organisation of Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD – see website), amongst others, because of its perceived failure to carry out its obligations under the OECD Convention, which the UK ratified in 1998. The new Act, if it becomes law, will impact upon all commercial organisations seeking contracts with the public sector both in the UK and abroad.

Key features to watch out for if you are a UK contractor are the proposed new offences of bribing a foreign public official and the corporate offence of failure to prevent bribery by persons working on behalf of the business, including employees, agents and subsidiaries (whether domestic or foreign). The corporate offence applies to companies or partnerships which are either formed under UK law or which carry on business in any part of the UK – in other words, it could also impact on foreign companies doing business in the UK. The offence is punishable by an unlimited fine for the company whilst company individuals with responsibility for anti-corruption measures face personal criminal liability and up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

It will be a defence to the corporate charge for a company to show that “adequate procedures” to prevent corruption were in place at the time. The Bill does not detail what “adequate procedures” means but this month the Government agreed to add an amendment that will require the Secretary of State to provide guidance on this. All UK companies and overseas companies doing business in the UK should probably review their internal procedures carefully and update training, policies and contracts of employment to reflect the new law.

Some of you may ask whether there is sufficient parliamentary time to push this through before the UK election (which most commentators are forecasting in early May this year). The current view is that while the Bill is generally understood to have cross-party support, timing is very tight as there are a number of further stages that the Bill must complete in the House of Commons before it can be passed into law. If the Bill is not passed in time, it will need to be re-introduced in the next Parliament.

Any thoughts on the latest FIDIC development or indeed on the UK’s proposed anti corruption measures are of course always welcome!

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