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High Court Upholds Adjudicator’s Award in Airport Contract Dispute

Disappointed parties to contract adjudications often cite alleged breaches of natural justice as a reason why awards should not be honoured. However, a High Court case concerning the design and installation of an airport baggage handling system showed just how hard it can be to prove such allegations.

airportNumerous disputes between the main contractor and subcontractor engaged in the project had resulted in a series of adjudications. Following the sixth such procedure, an adjudicator directed the subcontractor to pay the main contractor £9,671,500 in damages in respect of delays in the completion of the relevant works.

After the subcontractor expressed dissatisfaction with the adjudicator’s award and refused to pay, the main contractor launched High Court enforcement proceedings. They were resisted by the subcontractor on the basis that the adjudicator’s decision had been infected by breaches of natural justice and was thus invalid.

In rejecting those arguments, the Court could detect no inconsistency between the adjudicator’s award and findings he had made in one of the previous adjudications. Whether the adjudicator was right or wrong was not a matter for the Court on an enforcement application and there no difficulty in discerning the reasons for his decision.

The subcontractor’s complaint that the adjudicator acted unfairly in failing to direct disclosure of material from an earlier adjudication, involving the main contractor and another party, were also rejected. He had not been asked to make such a direction and no material had been placed before him that would have required him to do so. In the circumstances, the main contractor was granted summary judgment in the full amount of the adjudicator’s award, plus interest.