CONSTRUCTION LITIGANTS attempted to exploit the extended millennium break to gain advantage in adjudication cases, it emerged this week.
Construction law experts said many filed adjudication claims requiring a response within seven working days the week before Christmas. This was done knowing that opponents would be shut for business over the Christmas break.
Many offices closed several days before Christmas and did not reopen until January 4, while many key personnel left work early to take holidays.
Under the Construction Act, litigants seeking adjudication are normally entitled to a response to claims within seven working days. This is considered enough time for opponents to produce counter arguments so they cannot drag their feet.
Those seeking arbitration via the Construction Industry Council failed to impose the seven day deadline. CIC adjudicators made a point of extending normal response times to as much 14 days, in recognition of time lost over Christmas.
But some law firms claimed that the timing of the actions had still put their clients at a disadvantage. 'The adjudicator has extended our timescale of response by a week but the bringers of the case have improved their tactical position,' said one lawyer.
The CIC received a surge of enquiries from potential claimants on Christmas Eve and put between 30 and 40 adjudicators on alert.
'Most adjudicators said they would be prepared to act but only if companies bringing the adjudication agreed to an extension,' said CIC chief executive Graham Watts.
Adjudicators are said to have told claimants that failure to agree extensions would be frowned on and in the end CIC received fewer adjudications than expected.
'We had a lot of enquiries in the 10 days leading up to Christmas but there hasn't been the glut of applications as we originally feared,' said Watts.
The CIC has this week written to the Construction Minister Beverley Hughes urging amendment of the Construction Act to account for the timing of future adjudication action.
'In many cases solicitors are urging their clients to bring these sort of claims,' said Watts.
Richard Lees Steel Decking and five other construction companies have announced that they will no longer accept contracts with retention clauses in a bid to stop companies retaining payments until projects are completed.