Amec Civil Engineerig Ltd v Secretary of State for Transport (Part I)
The propositions that could be derived from case law as to the meaning of "dispute" in relation to adjudications
11 October, 2004
AMEC CIVIL ENGINEERING LTD v SECRETARY OF STATE FOR TRANSPORT
Court of Appeal
May, Rix and Hooper LJJ
17 March 2005
Jackson J in this case at first instance summarised the propositions that could be derived from caselaw as to the meaning of “dispute” in relation to adjudications: (1) "Dispute" should be given its normal meaning and it did not have some special or unusual meaning conferred upon it by lawyers (2) The mere fact that the claimant notified the respondent of a claim did not automatically and immediately give rise to a dispute insofar as it was clear, both as a matter of language and from judicial decisions, that a dispute did not arise unless and until it emerged that the claim was not admitted (4) The period of time for which a respondent might remain silent before a dispute was to be inferred depended heavily upon the facts of the case and the contractual structure (5) If the claimant imposed upon the respondent a deadline for responding to the claim, that deadline did not have the automatic effect of curtailing what would otherwise be a reasonable time for responding but, on the other hand, a stated deadline and the reasons for its imposition might be relevant factors when the court came to consider what was a reasonable time for responding and (6) If the claim was so nebulous and ill-defined that the respondent could not sensibly respond to it, neither silence by the respondent nor even an express non-admission was likely to give rise to a dispute for the purposes of arbitration or adjudication.
The Court of Appeal approved the propositions of Jackson J. Rix LJ made some further observations. He stated that the problem over “dispute” had only really arisen in recent years in the context of adjudication. In this context there was an understandable concern that the defendant should have a reasonable time in which to respond to any claim insofar as: (1) There was a legitimate concern to ensure that the point at which this additional complexity had been properly reached should not too readily be anticipated bearing in mind that adjudication was an additional provisional layer of dispute resolution and (2) Unlike the arbitration context, adjudication was likely to occur at an early stage, when there was no limitation problem, with the result that the parties, and in particular the defendant, might be plunged into an expensive contest with tightly drawn timing provisions before they were ready for it.