Amec Group Ltd V Thames Water Utilities Ltd

Principles relevant to the interplay between adjudication and the rules of natural justice set out by Coulson J


Technology and Construction Court
Coulson J
24 February 2010

The enforcement of a decision was not, in the words of Judge LLoyd in Balfour Beatty v. Lambeth LB (2002), to be thwarted by an overly-sensitive concern for procedural niceties in view of the speed with which an adjudication had to be carried out and completed, whether pursuant to the Construction Act or to a timetable imposed by any contractual adjudication procedure and the temporary nature of any consequential decision.
Chadwick LJ stated in Carillion v Devonport that it should be only in rare circumstances that the courts would interfere with an adjudicator’s decision unless it was plain that the question he decided was not the question referred to him or the manner in which he went about his task was obviously unfair. In particular the court should not give any encouragement to a defendant scrabbling around to find some arguments, however tenuous, to resist payment.
Where an adjudication was concerned with a large scale or complex dispute, the mere fact that an adjudication was so concerned did not of itself make the dispute unsuitable for adjudication (see Judge Toulmin in CIB Properties v Birse Construction (2005)). What mattered was whether, notwithstanding the size or complexity of the dispute, the adjudicator had sufficiently appreciated the nature of any issue referred to him before giving a decision on that issue, including the submissions of each party and was satisfied that he could do broad justice between the parties (see Judge Toulmin in CIB Properties v Birse Construction (2005)).
If the adjudicator felt able to reach a decision within the time limit, a court when considering whether or not that conclusion was outside the rules of natural justice would consider the basis on which the adjudicator reached that conclusion. In practical terms that consideration was likely to amount to no more than a scrutiny of the particular allegations as to why the defendant claimed that the adjudicator acted in breach of natural justice.
Where it was alleged that the adjudicator failed to have sufficient regard to the material provided by one party, the court would consider such an allegation by reference to the nature of the material, the timing of the provision of that material and the opportunities available to the parties to address the subject matter of that material before and during the adjudication.