Leaders UAE 2020: Legal speak on COVID-19 impact

HKA’s Haroon Niazi, Reed Smith’s Sachin Kerur, and Pinsent Masons' Mark Raymont were on the panel

HKA’s Haroon Niazi, Reed Smith’s Sachin Kerur, and Pinsent Masons' Mark Raymont were part of the panel
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HKA’s Haroon Niazi, Reed Smith’s Sachin Kerur, and Pinsent Masons' Mark Raymont were part of the panel

The finale panel discussion 'Knowing Your Rights' held on the last day at Leaders in Construction UAE Virtual Summit featured HKA’s partner Haroon Niazi, Reed Smith’s head of Middle East, Sachin Kerur, and Pinsent Masons head of risk advisory services for the Middle East, Mark Raymont, and was moderated by Construction Week's editor Ashley Williams.

The final panel discussion of the conference delved into how the industry can seek advice from the legal and construction experts for those feeling the pinch from the impact of COVID-19.

Panelists shared their insights on how have they supported clients to make sure they have been performing their contractual obligations despite the trying times we're in. They also discussed preservation of cash; incentivised collaboration; and profit motivation as key factors in ensuring client performance and satisfaction.

Speaking about the uncertainty the industry is clouded by at present, Niazi said: "The last three-four months have been very challenging. However, we have been agile and have listened to our clients. During this period, we have seen a number of claims including suspension, extension of time and cost claims."

Presenting a differing opinion, Kerur said: "We were fortunate that the construction industry was less affected, in regard that it was allowed to continue work. We have done a lot of red flag analysis, on the basis that prevention is better than cure."

Viewing the force majeure clause with a COVID-19 lens, Kerur said: "It [force majeure] can be a blunt instrument. In order to relieve the parties from dispute, there must be something that works much better to relieve contractors from legal disputes."

"The battleground has been the particular meaning and effect of change of such law clauses," Raymont said.

Evidently, the flavour of Day 2 of the conference was all things collaboration; the legal experts agreed that the industry is still a long way from collaboration, Raymont pointed that true collaboration only works with incentivisation.

The panellists also agreed that the pandemic has built a need to turn to virtual technologies in the way of working. For instance, Kerur said: "Virtual technology in dispute resolution has expedited during this period."

Speaking about virtual hearings, Raymont added: "When you cross examine witnesses you want to see how are they following the arguments, which is difficult with virtual hearings. The obvious benefits of virtual hearings are time and cost."

As a closing topic, the panellists shared advice for industry stakeholders on how to maintain a healthy business during these tough times. 

Interestingly, all three panellists posed different views, converging to serve the same purpose. 

Niazi urged stakeholders to give proper consideration to record-keeping and have a strategy in place. "When COVID-19 becomes a thing of the past, we have to remember what we've learnt."

Kerur said: "Going forward, I hope clients allow contractors in the supply chain enough profit motivation. To sustain a business during these times, it is important to look after your people..."

"...and your business," Raymont said, adding that empathy is significantly important during these times.

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