Construction Professionals’ Council Conference Tackles Contracts

Pictured at the annual signature event of the Construction Professionals’ Council of Northern Ireland which was held in the Hilton Hotel Belfast, are (from left), speakers John Riches, Henry Cooper Consultants; Martin Hare, Chairman of the Construction Professionals’ Council of Northern Ireland; expert adjudicator, Lindy Patterson QC and Dennis Baldwin Soma Contract Services. Photograph by Declan Roughan, Press Eye.

Over 100 of the province’s construction professionals, contractors, representatives of government organisations and legal professionals attended the event in Belfast to hear three of the UK’s top legal experts speak on the topic of construction contracts.

Lindy Patterson QC; Dennis Baldwin and John Riches explored how to select the right contract for the right project, the responsibility and liabilities of the parties to the contract and what to do if the contract crashes.

In his opening address Stewart Heaney, Director of Construction Division, Construction & Procurement Delivery (CPD), underlined the importance of government using construction professionals in the delivery of public projects, ensuring that both quality and value for money are achieved.

He emphasised the importance that CPD assign to receiving both quality-based and sustainable professional services from their consultants, where time, resources and money are key features in successful delivery. He also outlined the introduction of the use of the ‘Mean narrow average’ in the tendering of future CPD professional services contracts.

Lindy Patterson QC, 39 Essex Chambers, discussed the need for a contract; what forms are available; what drives the choice and also what to look out for from various standard forms. One of her key messages to the audience was that it is essential that those operating or administering the contract know and understand the standard form chosen.

She warned that a lack of knowledge of duties under the ‘newer’ standard forms of contracts, such as the NEC suite, can be potentially disastrous. The presentation also included the contractual implications of conditions precedent, the extent of design obligations, the prevention principle, extension of time claims and concurrent delay with examples from recent and important case law affecting construction contracts.

Dennis Baldwin of Soma Contract Services Ltd, one the country’s leading adjudicators and arbitrators, outlined the responsibilities and liabilities which apply to each of the parties to a contract. He highlighted the need for addressing the management of project risk and how this should best be allocated between the parties.

The subjects of time bars and client redress entitlements within construction contracts were discussed.  Also included were both the client’s and contractor’s liabilities, which ranged from claims and costs payable to others, arising from or in connection with the contractor providing the Works, to a fault in the design contained in the scope provided by the client or an instruction from the project manager changing the scope.

John Riches of Henry Cooper Consultants, a leading adjudicator and arbitrator, outlined how to avoid the contract crashing by describing what makes the wheels come off the contract. He commented that invariably disputes are not coincidental or accidental, they are made. He reflected how they often occur from the outset, where wrong choices have been made and there is over optimism by one or all the parties.

He also warned that if the standard form of contract did not meet the requirements of the project it would be more appropriate to write a bespoke contract. He concluded that ‘leaving the contract in the drawer’ is the worst piece of advice he has ever heard, as the contract should be a working tool with a positive influence.

The event was concluded by a question and answer session chaired by Ferguson Bell, a well-known local adjudicator and arbitrator.

To find out more about the Construction Professionals’ Council of Northern Ireland contact