JCT Interviews…Christopher J Probyn Miers

In this series we shed some light on some of the key people who are involved with or give their time to support JCT, to ensure that all areas of the construction industry are represented and can contribute to the development of our contracts. We will look at how our interviewees contribute to JCT specifically, and gain their views on JCT’s wider role within the industry.

JCT Council Member
Member of the JCT Drafting Sub-Committee

Christopher Miers is an architect expert in dispute avoidance and resolution in construction conflicts worldwide, with over 35 years’ experience with standard and bespoke forms of international contracts. He is regarded as a leading negotiator and advisor in his various capacities as an arbitrator, mediator, adjudicator, and as a dispute board member.

Christopher has been appointed in over 400 projects of up to €15m value and on claims in excess of €200m on multidisciplinary construction projects worldwide such as rail and transport systems, energy and power, skyscrapers and sports infrastructure. He is a coleader who introduced the procedure rules for effective dispute resolution at ‘Rio Janeiro 2016 Olympics & Paralympics’. He is a past president of the Dispute Resolution Board Foundation (DRBF)-Region 2, a ‘FIDIC President’s List’ Approved Adjudicator and he serves on dispute boards and dispute adjudication panels worldwide. He is also RIBA representative to the Construction Industry Council Appeals Tribunal.

In 1998 he founded ‘Probyn Miers’ which has grown to be the UK’s leading ‘think tank’ of architects in forensic analysis and international dispute avoidance and resolution with offices in London and Dubai. He is past chairman of the Society of Construction Law; a visiting professor at Peking University, School of Transnational Law; a visiting lecturer in UK universities and a member of several international panels. He is a regular speaker on DAB/DBs and FIDIC contracts and lectures extensively at international forums on ‘How to Avoid Disagreements Escalating into Disputes’.

Christopher is also the author of several publications on dispute avoidance and resolution including the latest ’Delay and Disruption in Construction Contracts’ (Law- Routledge, February 2016, 5th Edition); and “Real Time Dispute Resolution in Rio de Janeiro…Since you cannot Delay the Olympic Games” (Construction Law Journal, Special Issue: Dispute Boards, 2015).

JCT: Christopher, how did you first come to be involved with JCT? Why do you think it is important to be involved?

CM: I was introduced to JCT by a distinguished RIBA member, John Hermsen FRIBA, now retired from practice and from JCT. I had worked for John when I first qualified as an architect in the early 1980s while I was working at Ahrends Burton & Koralek. John was a marvellous guide and mentor to me in professional practice. John and I both subsequently studied construction law at King’s College London. My legal training formed the foundation for my specialist work bridging across between everyday architectural practice and dispute avoidance and resolution.

For me it is important to be involved with JCT since I bring to the Council on behalf of the RIBA and the architectural profession an extensive understanding of the complexities of the role of the architect combined with the challenges of successfully procuring construction projects. Within the work I do I regularly see how issues arise which have the potential to impact on the project outcomes and develop into disputes. Contracts clearly need to support successful procurement and to develop with the industry.

JCT: Can you tell us about any specific work you’re currently doing with JCT – through any boards, groups or committees, for instance?

CM: I sit on the Drafting Sub-Committee for JCT, and I also have a particular interest in all measures to support collaborative working and proactive dispute resolution.

JCT: Do you have any personal career highlights? What are you most proud of about the construction industry as a whole and where do you think it most needs to improve?

CM: I work on major international and domestic projects; these are complex and require an in-depth understanding of contracts and procurement strategies. One recent highlight is that I have recently completed work for the Rio 2016 Olympic & Paralympic Games, where I – together with two colleagues (a lawyer based in Miami and a lawyer based in Sao Paulo) – developed and implemented the dispute avoidance and dispute resolution procedures for approximately 40 overlay contracts for construction and associated professional services for the Olympics projects.

JCT: What do you think makes JCT unique? What are the benefits of the way in which JCT contracts are produced?

CM: JCT is a unique body, in my opinion, due to the way in which it represents all sectors of the construction industry. It deserves support from us all. The fact the JCT Council includes representatives from architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, local government and private sector clients, contractors and specialist subcontractors, means that the contracts truly represent a shared view of a fair risk balance in construction procurement.

This representation across industry also creates challenges for the drafting of contracts, as you may imagine, since perceptions of the appropriate risk allocation may be different depending upon which parts of the construction industry you approach from. The consequence is that, quite often, developing agreed wording takes considerable time. However, the benefit is that at the end of this when contract editions are issued, these have been extensively considered by all member colleges of JCT Council, and therefore they reflect a consensus across industry.

JCT: What do you see as the main challenges for the construction industry over the next five years?

CM: One of our key challenges in the next five years is to continue to harness technology for optimising design and construction, whilst retaining design integrity. Coordination of the design process is critical, recognising the increased role for specialists in carrying out parts of the detailed design for construction. Architects continue to be key in achieving the overall quality of design.

Amongst all this, it must not be forgotten that the initial stages form the critical foundation for the project. It is in the interests of clients to allow sufficient time for the initial briefing process and design to be developed and coordinated through to tender stage. The commercial pressure to reduce the period for pre-tender design, and to minimise upfront professional fees, can so easily give rise to the loss of opportunity to optimise the design and also to an increase in risk of later difficulties where time pressure leads to the design being incomplete or not yet fully coordinated.

JCT: Does JCT have a wider role to play in the industry beyond producing contracts?

CM: JCT’s focus on construction contracts should, in my view, be seen in the wider context of the need to support all areas of the construction industry in procurement best practice. JCT therefore has an important role not merely in providing construction contracts which reflect a consensus across industry – which it does –but also in promulgating these contracts through education, training and support, and guidance. It also can provide a point of contact between other bodies which have a role to play in the construction sector, including for example insurers, manufacturing and software developers.