With Boris Johnson addressing the Nation last night, announcing “you must stay at home”, as he placed the UK on lockdown in a bid to stop the Covid-19 Pandemic, the reality of lockdown for the UK has struck, but has it? Boris was so flowery in his delivery last night that everyone is confused, especially contractors and what this means for construction sites. Rightly so, contractors are in total confusion as to what this means for them and have asked for clarity after a Cabinet minister said it was fine for sites to remain open – less than 90 minutes after the Prime Minister announced the three-week Coronavirus lockdown.
Boris Johnson ordered people to stay at home, work from home if they can, if it isn’t essential to go into work. There was very little definition or direction and lack of assertive language. At the end of his speech, Boris said that the police will have the authority to stop you and possibly fine you…..how does that work?
Is essential work open to interpretation? There is no exact definition on who can work, obviously it is not possible to work from home with construction sites, so unless you are building a hospital or building something that would be used to fight the Coronavirus and save lives, does this mean they will close down?!
Uncertain times for the construction industry but given the broadcast dialogue should the government be going further to suspend the works and close down construction sites? This would limit the amount of blame on contractors for unauthorised walk out.
If disputes do occur, another question that arises in what Arbicon do in resolving them... can an Adjudicator carry on in the lockdown period? An adjudicator only has a short period of time to make a decision and there may be witnesses or advocates missing due to illness or unavailability. A site meeting/inspection may not be possible due to the isolation required or closed site. It will be every case on its own merits, but adjudication can also be suspended by the parties by agreement. It is not unusual for no agreement between sides! The defending side will obstruct saying proceeding will breach natural justice without their star witness or Quantity Surveyor. Alternatively, the responding party might also demand the process proceeds if the claimant is unable to put its case. There is a risk that the process can be derailed in that a breach of natural justice may occur due to a party not being able to properly put its case. That would be decided by the Technology and Construction Court (TCC) at enforcement, but the Court is closed!
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