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An Interesting Decision from the TCC

20 October 2017

The Technology and Construction Court (TCC) is a specialized group of UK courts which handle disputes about building, engineering and surveying. Of interest is the recent decision of the TCC in the matter of Jacobs UK Limited v Skanska Construction Ltd [2017] EWHC 2395 (TCC), handed down in September 2017.

The parties in this matter had entered into an agreement for the provision of design services, in respect of a project for the design and replacement of street lighting in Lewisham and Croydon, England.

A dispute arose as to the adequacy of the design services provided by Jacobs, which was referred to adjudication by Skansa. Agreement was reached regarding the procedural rules and the timetable for the adjudication, the adjudicator was appointed and the initial submissions made. Skansa’s counsel, however, was unavailable and Skansa was, therefore, unable to timeously file its reply to these submissions. Both Jacobs and the adjudicator refused it an extension to do so. Skansa, therefore, withdrew its reference to adjudication and invited the adjudicator to resign, which he did.

Two months later Skansa submitted substantially the same dispute to a second adjudication. Jacobs then made application to the TCC for an injunction (similar to an interdict in South African law) restraining Skansa from proceeding.

The court found that although there is no principle of abuse of process in adjudication, subjecting a party to serial adjudications in respect of the same claim and requiring them to incur irrecoverable costs could amount to unreasonable and oppressive behavior.

In this case, however, the terms under which the adjudication was conducted made allowance for the reference of a dispute to a second adjudication, should the adjudicator resign. While it was unreasonable for Skansa to withdraw and reinstate its claim due to the unavailability of its counsel, this did not deprive the new adjudicator of jurisdiction.

As the dispute referred to the second adjudication was substantially similar to the first dispute, Jacobs would be able to make use of it previously drafted submission. The changes to Skansa’s version would most likely have been raised in its reply in the first adjudication, thus, in any event, entitling Jacobs to seek an opportunity to file a rejoinder. The inconvenience and additional costs suffered by Jacobs as a result of the second adjudication were not, therefore, considered to be so severe or exceptional so as to warrant intervention by the courts by way of injunctive relief.

The outcome may well have been different, however, had the parties been operating under an adjudication procedure which places a time bar upon the referral of a dispute to adjudication, such as that contained in Option W1 of the NEC3.