Monday, October 9, 2017

What's New in the 2017 FIDIC White Book?

In March 2017 the Fédération Internationale des Ingénieurs Conseils (“FIDIC”) issued the Fifth Edition of the White Book, or the Client/Consultant Model Services Agreement to give it its full name. The White Book forms part of the FIDIC suite of documents and is one of the most commonly used professional services agreements in the world.

The Fifth Edition contains some major amendments to the Fourth Edition, which was published in 2006. We consider below some of the more important changes introduced by the latest update.

Form of agreement 
The Fifth Edition introduces an order of precedence to the documents listed as forming and to be construed as part of the agreement, both under the Form of Agreement and in the General Conditions.

By omitting to do so, the Fourth Edition was unclear as to which document’s terms would take precedence in the event that provisions in one document contradicted those in any of the others. 

Standard of care 
The enhanced standard of care set out in clause 3.3.1 now conforms more closely with wording typically found in client-bespoke agreements. The new wording provides that the consultant must exercise the “reasonable skill, care and diligence to be expected from a consultant experienced in the provision of such services for projects of similar size, nature and complexity.”

Further, the consultant must “perform the services with a view to satisfying any function and purpose that may be described in Appendix 1 (Scope of services).” The above wording stops short of introducing a “fit for purpose” clause, though in Oman the absence of such wording will not affect the consultant’s statutory decennial liability for the collapse of a building.

The Fifth Edition makes clear that the standard of reasonable skill, care and diligence only applies to the performance of the services. Under the Fourth Edition, the consultant had “no other responsibility than to exercise reasonable skill, care and diligence” in the performance of all its obligations in the agreement, including commencement, completion dates, procurement and maintenance of insurance, and any reporting. In the Fifth Edition these are now treated as absolute obligations.

Intellectual property rights 
The new edition distinguishes between background intellectual property (intellectual property owned by either party prior to the commencement of the services) and foreground intellectual property (intellectual property created by the consultant during the performance of the services). Foreground intellectual property remains the property of the consultant, but the client will have a licence to use it for any purpose connected to the project. The licence is broad, however, and would allow the client to use the foreground intellectual property in any future extensions of the project.

Dispute resolution 
The dispute resolution provisions now include adjudication as part of a multitiered dispute resolution process. If a dispute cannot be resolved amicably, it must first be referred to adjudication before any arbitration proceedings can be commenced.

In Oman, it is likely that these provisions will be amended so as to refer any dispute straight to arbitration.

Good faith 
The Fifth Edition introduces a broad good faith obligation (applying to “all dealings”) which has the potential to be at issue in almost any dispute. The governing law and jurisdiction of the contract will have a significant bearing on the extent of this “good faith” obligation.

Good faith under Omani contract law can be interpreted as a requirement to act reasonably and moderately, not to use the terms of a contract to abuse the rights of the other contracting party, and not to cause unjustified damage to the other party.

In Omani law an act of bad faith by one party may constitute a cause of action for the other party to the contract. Accordingly, the duty of good faith is overarching, in contrast with the position at English law. Under English law the extent of the obligation depends on the context and how explicitly it is defined. However, it is clear that the English courts are reluctant to construe a good faith obligation as imposing a positive obligation on a party to act against its commercial interest, or to give precedence to such an obligation over an express contractual right.

In the new edition, default must be not only “deliberate,” as was the case in the Fourth Edition, but also “manifest and reckless” in order for the exclusion of the cap on liability to apply.

The Fifth Edition also provides for the mutual exclusion of liability for a number of heads of loss or claim. This is favourable for the consultant, as in many jurisdictions, without express wording excluding liability for loss of profit, etc.; the consultant would be liable insofar as these constituted “direct losses.”

The Fifth Edition sets out more detailed requirements as to what programmes should contain. There are also more detailed provisions obligating the consultant to provide a programme within 14 days of the commencement date; specifying which information the programmes should include; and obligating the consultant to revise the programme if the client does not reasonably believe the project will be completed on time.

The new edition expands on: the circumstances which could constitute a variation; the procedure for initiating variations and agreeing on their impact on the programme; and the consultant’s remuneration.

The Fifth Edition now explicitly provides that the client is not entitled to terminate for convenience in order to carry out the services itself or through a third party. In the Fourth Edition, this was not expressly stated.

The Fifth Edition now allows for immediate termination where there is corruption or insolvency. It also permits the client, with 28 days’ notice, to suspend the services for convenience.

There are more extensive rights of suspension, including an express right for the consultant to suspend if the client fails to demonstrate that it has made satisfactory arrangements to meet its payment obligations.

The allocation of risk between the parties under the new edition of the White Book appears to remain broadly similar to that set out in the previous Fourth Edition. However, the Fifth Edition has gone a long way to remedying many of the shortcomings of the Fourth Edition.

 As a result of the changes, the parties should now be better able to understand and manage their risk allocation.