12 Nov 2019

Legal change. Digital twins. And Brexit.

These were the topics that our guests from major businesses were keen to hear about when they attended our Annual Construction Law Conference in London on 6 November. 

Our speakers provided them with:

  • an insightful analysis of recent construction case law and other key developments expected over the next year
  • an inspiring insight into the emergence and progress of the "digital twin" in the construction industry and 
  • an informative update on the current state of play with Brexit and the upcoming General Election, and their potential impact on the construction industry.

Opening and chairing the event as he has successfully done in previous years, Simon Lewis, Lead Disputes Partner in the Construction and Engineering team and renowned BIM expert, said:

"It is always a pleasure to chair our annual construction law event and to hear from speakers providing insights across a wide range of areas. This year has been no exception. The speakers were excellent and the areas covered were timely and of great importance to the sector. It was clear from discussions after the formal part of the evening was over that the audience found the topics interesting and provocative. I am looking forward to next year already."  

Legal developments 

Partner, David Skelton (who is also a qualified adjudicator and a Deputy District Judge on the Western Circuit), set out some key recent legal cases in the Technology and Construction Court and Court of Appeal, explaining their facts in an easily digestible manner, and explaining the likely impact for construction.

This included recent guidance from the courts on what constitutes practical completion, trends in adjudication (in particular challenges to adjudicators' decisions), uncertainties in claiming relief from sanctions for breaching court orders or court processes, and considering whether automated electronic signatures on emails can be contractually binding. 

He also highlighted relevant upcoming developments and legislation, including the VAT Reverse Charge (due to come in force last month but now postponed to October 2020) and its effect on cash flow for the construction industry.

After the event, he briefly summarised:

"21 years on from the coming into force of the Construction Act, there are still regular challenges to adjudicators' decision on the same old grounds and 50 years after the courts first grappled with the concept, we have new guidance on the meaning of "practical completion"".

Digital Twins

Guest speaker, Rob Charlton, CEO of Space Group (who was the founder of BIM Campus and BIM Show Live) looked at the increasing pace of change in construction, from drafting machines to drawing software to virtual reality. He believes "the biggest pace of change that we have ever seen in our industry has occurred in the last eight to nine years". 

He set out the state of digital construction today, particularly BIM Stage 2, saying "all the tools are there, but the hearts and minds of the construction industry need to change and catch up". 

Finally, he considered where digital construction may be in the near future and beyond. This included his explanation of what a digital twin is ("a digital representation of the physical"), and how we move from buildings to smart buildings to smart societies. His view was that our next challenge was "looking out, not just in" and considering what "societal goods" construction can bring. 

He later said: 

"We have cultural, quality and specification issues to address, however we have made great strides in recent years and I believe we are transforming quicker than any other sector. There is a chance not only to look inwards but we have an opportunity to address wider social issues such as carbon use and building safety. The emergence of the digital twin pushes us forward to make a greater impact on the world around us."

Brexit – legal advice in uncertain times

Malcom Dowden, Legal Director (Brexit expert and author of several publications), gave a high speed update on the complicated and continuously changing status of Brexit, setting out the current key issues and concerns for the construction industry. 

He gave insights into specific terminology and the differing ideologies of Brexit, weighed whether a "no deal" Brexit was still possible under Brexit-related legislation, and analysed the Brexit stances of each of the main political parties to date and the potential dates for Brexit depending on the December General Election outcomes.

Next he moved onto the key issues for the construction industry in the event of "no deal" Brexit, including explaining the need for continued focus on supply chain management, understanding haulage and distribution arrangements, and assessing contractual risk allocation (including for delay, customs and border costs, force majeure and frustration, and termination and business continuity).

After the conference, he said: 

"One unexpectedly useful consequence of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is that many businesses now have a much fuller understanding of their supply chains and areas of contractual risk or potential cost. Whatever the outcome of the 12 December election, Brexit will be a factor in UK and international business for some time to come, and Brexit resilience planning remains a priority issue for boards, operational divisions and funders."

If you are interested in Brexit, please also visit our Brexit Hub, a source of up to date news, comment and advice as we move towards Brexit.

For more information about our Construction and Engineering team and for some free and useful resources and please visit our webpages and interactive timeline.