Contract adjudications can involve analysis of vast amounts of detailed evidence, but can an award be challenged on the basis that one side or the other was not afforded enough time to prepare its case? The High Court pondered that question in a guideline ruling.
The case concerned a contract by which a social housing provider engaged a property services company to carry out repair and maintenance work on a large part of its housing stock. The company’s work generally consisted of a high volume of small jobs.
After the company purported to terminate the contract, the provider referred the matter to an adjudicator. He found that the termination was invalid and that the company had acted in repudiatory breach of the contract. Following a second adjudication, the company was directed to pay the provider compensation in excess of £6.5 million, plus interest.
In the latter proceedings, the provider presented the adjudicator with voluminous evidence, including a lengthy expert report and hundreds of megabytes of data comprised in thousands of files. The company asserted that it was afforded insufficient time – 13 working days – in which to digest such a vast quantity of evidence and prepare an effective response to the provider’s case. That, it contended, amounted to a breach of natural justice that rendered the award unenforceable.
In rejecting the company’s challenge to the award, however, the Court noted the general rule that, in the interest of finality, adjudicators’ decisions must be enforced, even if they contain errors of procedure, fact or law. Judges are very reticent to do otherwise. Both complexity and restraint of time to respond are inherent in many adjudication processes and are, in themselves, no bar to enforcement.
Despite the sheer volume of evidence placed before the adjudicator, the issues that he had to decide were not unusually complex. He engaged in a legitimate process of sampling and spot checking. The company was able to properly and thoroughly engage in the substance of the matter and in fact enjoyed relatively significant success in undermining aspects of the provider’s claim. The Court directed enforcement of the award by way of summary judgment.