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North Midland Building Ltd v Cyden Homes Ltd 2017 EWHC 2414 (TCC)

11 December 2017

On 2 October 2017, at the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Technology and Construction Court, the honourable Justice Fraser handed down judgement, in the matter between North Midland Building Limited (“North Midland”) and Cyden homes Limited (“Cyden”). North Midland (contractor) and Cyden (employer) agreed to certain bespoke amendments to the Joint Contracts Tribunal (“JCT”) Design and Building Contract 2005 standard form contract. The court was faced with the contractual interpretation of one of the clauses, which concerned the way in which extensions of time would be dealt with in certain circumstances. The contract was for the construction of a sizeable house in the Midlands.

Clause as amended by the parties on 21 September 2009, read as follows:


1. any of the events which are stated to be a cause of delay is a Relevant Event; and
2. completion of the Works or of any Section has been or is likely to be delayed thereby beyond the relevant Completion Date,
3. and provided that
(a) the Contractor has made reasonable and proper efforts to mitigate such delay; and
(b) any delay caused by a Relevant Event which is concurrent with another delay for which the Contractor is responsible shall not be taken into account then, save where these Conditions expressly provide otherwise, the Employer shall give an extension of time by fixing such later date as the Completion Date for the Works or Section as he then estimates to be fair and reasonable.”

Sub-clause (3) was the part added by the parties to the standard clause. The clause as amended added into the extension of time machinery the proviso that, in assessing an extension of time, “any delay caused by a Relevant Event which is concurrent with another delay for which the Contractor is responsible shall not be taken into account”.

The works were delayed, and the claimant applied for an extension of time for a variety of reasons. In the application, they included various other notices of delay, which relied upon different causes, or Relevant Events. Cyden’s response stated:

“Whilst no consideration has been made with regards to ‘reasonable and proper efforts to mitigate such delay’, the delays resulting from Delay Events 1 and 9 have been consumed by culpable delays attributable to North Midland Building, this reducing entitlement to an award of an Extension of Time”.

Cyden maintained that, if there were two delaying events, Event X and Event Y, occurring at the same time and causing concurrent delay to completion of the works, with Event X otherwise allowing the claimant to an extension of time, and Event Y being “another delay for which the Contractor is responsible”, then the contractor, North Midland, would not be entitled to an extension of time in respect of those two delaying events. North Midland disagreed with this interpretation.

North Midland relied upon the doctrine of prevention. Fraser J noted that in Multiplex Construction (UK) v Honeywell Control Systems Ltd [2007] BLR 195, Jackson J (as he then was) considered the relationship between the prevention principle and time at large, and explained that:

“Essentially the prevention principle is something that arises where something occurs, for which it is said the employer is responsible, that prevents the contractor from complying with his obligations, usually the obligation to complete the works by the completion date.”

It was further stated that the failure to complete the Works by the completion date or the extended completion date, will usually entitle the employer to deduct liquidated and ascertained damages (“LADs”).

Fraser J noted that, North Midland had relied on the principle of concurrent delays as well the prevention principle, in order to justify the granting of the declarations sought. North Midland argued that as a consequence of the first two propositions time was at large.

“…the concept of ‘time at large’ does not mean that the contractor has an indefinite time to complete the works. If the completion date in the contract, and the mechanism for having that extended by means of awarding so many weeks to an originally agreed completion date, are inoperable or for some other reason no longer applicable, in general terms the contractor’s obligation becomes one to complete the works within a reasonable time. That is what the shorthand expression ‘time at large’ is usually understood to mean.”

Fraser J referred to Multiplex and stated that Jackson J had considered the relationship between the prevention principle and time at large and stated:

(i) Actions by the employer which are perfectly legitimate under a construction contract may still be characterised as prevention, if those actions cause delay beyond the contractual completion date;
(ii) Acts of prevention by an employer do not set time at large, if the contract provides for extension of time in respect of those events;
(iii) Insofar as the extension of time clause is ambiguous, it should be construed in favour of the contractor.

North Midland argued that the employer’s response in respect to the application for extension of time was unfair, and not in accordance with the contract. North Midland reasoned that an extension of time ought to be granted without taking account of concurrent delays for which the claimant is responsible, and disallowing those latter periods. Nevertheless, Fraser J maintained that the prevention principle did not simply arise in this case.

Fraser J agreed with the defendant, and confirmed that the amendments and the meaning of the words used were “crystal clear” and agreed to by the parties. He further confirmed that, where the clause (or contract) specifically provides that, if the contractor was responsible for a concurrent delay at the same time as that caused by a Relevant Event, then the delay caused by the Relevant Event would not be taken into account when assessing the extension of time, and the contractor would ultimately be excluded from claiming an extension of time in respect of that Relevant Event.

Fraser J held that, both parties were free to agree to any terms they wished, in respect of the manner in which concurrent delays would be dealt with, and that there was no rule of law which prevented the parties from agreeing that concurrent delay be dealt with in any particular way.

It was further held that, there was no authority, statutory or otherwise to accept that the LADs would not be applicable in this case. Fraser J conclusively referred to the case of Jerram Falkus Construction Ltd v Fenice Investments Inc (No.4) [2011] EWHC 1935 (TCC), which Coulsen J stated that:

“Accordingly, I conclude that, for the prevention principle to apply, the contractor must be able to demonstrate that the employer’s acts or omissions have prevented the contractor from achieving an earlier completion date and that, if that earlier completion date would not have been achieved anyway, because of concurrent delays caused by the contractor’s own default, the prevention principle will not apply.”

Fraser J held that, where the parties have agreed to variations to the standard form contract, there is little room for interpretation later on, as parties will have to enforce what was contractually agreed upon. Therefore, parties can exclude the contractor’s entitlement to extension of time in respect to concurrent delays.