Partner, Blackrock Expert Services
Please tell us a little bit about your background, and how you first came to be appointed as an expert?
My background is probably unusual. I studied geology at Oxford University and graduated in 1976 which was at the height of the development of North Sea oil and gas. Serious exploration geologists were all heading to Aberdeen to work one month on, one month off on the oil rigs. That didn’t sound like much fun to me so I started a career as an engineering geologist based in London. I soon found myself travelling to Africa (both West and South), Hong Kong and Mauritius. It was whilst working on a dam project in Mauritius for a year that I fell in love with the tropics. Returning to the English weather seemed inconceivable, so I headed back to Hong Kong, still working for a leading consulting engineering firm.
In 1983, after seven years with consulting engineers, I changed direction and accepted a position in Singapore as project coordinator for the contractor on the first ever MRT (subway) contract there. On reflection it was a lucky break, allowing me to experience the ‘other side’ of the construction industry and at the same time bringing me even closer to endless summer on the Equator. As the project progressed, I became involved in disputes about adverse ground conditions and the concept of foreseeability. When the tunnels and stations were complete after three years, I started a new career in construction contract claims. I was still only 32 so I felt I was young enough to learn on the job.
Over the next 30 years, Singapore developed rapidly, as we all know, and there was never a shortage of new developments or new disputes. I was fortunate to be called as a witness of fact in an arbitration, to explain how a claim had been quantified. The opposing counsel tried hard to tempt me to give my opinion as to the merits of it and fortunately I survived the experience unscathed. Expert appointments followed steadily.
What key developments have you seen in the Singapore disputes landscape since you started out in the industry?
Singapore inherited forms of contract from its colonial past. As with everything else, Singapore gradually chose its own way and commissioned new forms of contract which were very different. In the early 1980’s, a new form of contract for private building works was introduced (The “New SIA Form”) and it has remained controversial ever since. In the 1990’s a new Public Sector Form was introduced. This was less radical than the SIA Form but both contracts gave those of us involved in advising clients in the industry plenty of material for discussion and ultimately dispute.
More recently, Singapore introduced its own version of construction adjudication (“Security of Payments Act”) which was very different to the UK Act, being faster and simpler. I became one of the first batch of adjudicators to be accredited. One aspect of the Act which I particularly appreciate is that all adjudication decisions are ‘sanitized’ by the organizing body to remove reference to the parties and the project. These redacted decisions are then published annually for the benefit of the industry in general.
You took some time off work to go sailing. How does it feel to be working again?
Sailing isn’t always relaxing. It can be exhausting too. In fact (this may sound contrived but it’s not) preparing for a typhoon is somewhat like preparing for cross-examination. You don’t want to be wishing you had deployed an extra anchor when it’s already too late. Preparation and planning is everything. I’m sure other experts will appreciate the comparison!