Chamberlain Carpentry & Joinery Ltd V Alfred McAlpine Construction Ltd
Technology and Construction Court
His Honour Judge Richard Seymour QC
25 March 2002
The sub-contractor stated in its notice of adjudication that there was a dispute in respect of a number of matters. These included the wrongful deduction of amounts included for the acceleration of the works, preliminaries, the cost of agency labour, the duplication of the measured works, the non-payment of amounts for prolongation, the rates for measured works for specific items and the release of monies incorrectly held by the contractor. The adjudicator decided that the contractor should pay the sub-contractor a specified sum. The sub-contractor brought court enforcement proceedings. The contractor submitted that the sub-contractor had sought to refer not one but a number of disputes with the results that the notice of adjudication was invalid.
Judge Seymour held that it was a question of fact as to what constituted a "dispute" fit to be referred to adjudication. This was on the basis that that it was possible to contemplate a substantial dispute with a number of different elements which should nevertheless be characterised as a single dispute on the one hand and a situation where the parties were in difference simultaneously about a number of matters and no reasonable man by any stretch of the imagination would say that there was only one "dispute" on the other.
The judge went on to hold that in the instant case it was plain that what the sub-contractor referred to adjudication by its notice of adjudication was a dispute as to how much it should be paid by the contractor. In order for the adjudicator to decide what sum, if any, should be paid by the contractor to the sub-contractor, it was necessary for him to consider a number of elements which the sub-contractor contended were relevant to the overall calculation of what was due to it. This did not mean that that dispute was in reality a series of disputes as to what was payable under a number of different heads.
The courts will usually take a “common sense” approach to what constitutes a “dispute”. The fact that a notice of adjudication sets out a payment claim under a number of heads will not mean that more than one dispute has been referred.