JCT Chair, Peter Hibberd, presented a paper entitled, ‘How difficult is it to write a standard form contract!’ to delegates at the Arbrix General Practice Spring Conference on 15 March 2014.
Arbrix was established in the mid-1980s as a forum for its members to discuss current issues and experiences relating to arbitration and dispute resolution. It also provides a vehicle for delivering relevant continuing professional development to professionals involved with dispute resolution in the construction and property industry.
Peter’s paper focused on the concept of a standard form contract, in terms of what it should be, what objectives it should achieve and how it might be produced.
Peter highlighted the history of the ‘standard form’ contract from a JCT perspective, as well as touch upon the ways in which JCT’s contracts are produced.
He talked about some of the challenges and difficulties in producing standard form contracts so that they meet the needs of parties involved, reflect ever-changing legislation, cope with commercial pressures, and accommodate new procurement methods, technologies and trends that have arisen over the course of JCT’s history, most recently partnering, sustainability and BIM.
In introducing the title of his paper, Peter explained:
“When uttering the words ‘How difficult is it to write a standard form of contract’ one cannot be sure whether this is a question or an exclamation. After all it cannot be that difficult – can it?
“However, the number of amendments to, and the number of disputes on, standard form contracts would suggest otherwise.
“Less than two hundred years ago, the concept of a standard form contract was unknown – certainly in construction terms. So what we have today, in its range and volume, is perhaps surprising and worth scrutiny.”
Peter also explains how the production of JCT contracts are designed so that that the needs of the industry are represented through consensus, provisions are included that contain good practice, and risk is apportioned fairly – an approach which should have the impact of reducing disputes.
“JCT is unique in the construction industry in that it adopts a formal structure that embraces client organisations, main contractors, specialist contractors and consultants, collectively representing interests across the UK and Northern Ireland (in Scotland through the Scottish Building Contract Committee).”