The Law of the Land
Michael Grose is head of regional construction and projects practice at Clyde & Co. Nearly two decades after coming to Dubai, he recently authored the first book on construction law in the Gulf. He spoke to Jason OConnell
What brought you to Dubai in 1998?
I worked as a construction lawyer for five years in the UK after I completed my legal training in London. Before that I spent three years studying law at Southampton University and a year at the College of Law in York. By 1998 I felt that it was time for a change and Dubai had the right mixture of excitement, opportunity and (most importantly) sunshine to get me to make the move.
Tell us a bit about the book and the ground it covers?
The book covers the issues that typically arise in a construction dispute on projects in the Gulf. So it has some introductory chapters on the nature of civil law and the role of the Islamic Shari’ah in the context of construction contracts as well as an introduction to the law of contract and tort. Then it covers the typical issues of dispute, such as delay, defects and payment. Along the way it covers health and safety, interest and time limits before getting into forms of dispute resolution, specifically the role of the civil courts and arbitration. The book concludes with a commentary on the FIDIC Conditions and how these are interpreted or influenced by the region’s civil codes.
What moved you to write the book in the first place?
I was frustrated by the lack of easily accessible information on the law when I first started advising on construction disputes in the region. I spent the first few years discovering laws or principles that were not common knowledge and so I set about a long and slow process of collecting these together. The book is the product of that initial frustration and I like to think it will contribute to a better understanding of construction law in the Gulf.
How accessible is the book? Is it only for legal practitioners?
The accessibility and usefulness of the book is probably for others to judge. It is certainly intended to be readable and to be laid out in a way that allows for easy use. Although the references to the relevant laws and judgments are probably mainly of interest to lawyers, the text itself is aimed at anyone with an interest in construction contracts and disputes.
Does the law in the Middle East differ much to elsewhere?
It is certainly different to the law found in most Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions. The UAE and the rest of the GCC (excluding KSA) adopted a legal system that is much closer to the French civil law model. This still puts the parties’ agreement at the front and centre of their legal relationship but there are some important differences of approach that are worth knowing.
Does the book have the potential to help stakeholders avoid costly disputes?
It wasn’t a specific objective of mine to help reduce disputes, though it would be a worthwhile achievement if it has that result. My objective was to dispel some common misconceptions about the application of domestic law and to encourage stakeholders to think about the obligations they are accepting.
What is the most common cause of construction related disputes in this region?
This is a tricky question because even a seemingly simple dispute will normally have more than one cause depending on which participant you speak to. If you take a dispute over a variation, for example, this can arise because of poor design, employer indecision, a contractor’s over optimistic claim or any combination of these. Each participant has an interest in blaming the other. If I had to boil it down to one thing, though, I would say that disputes are the price that is paid for competitive tendering and the resulting adversarial relationship between the project participants. Because there are fewer long term relationships in the Gulf’s building industry than in some other markets there is less reason to compromise to find a solution to disputes
Your experience must give you a competitive edge. Why reveal your secrets?
Knowledge of the law is only the starting point for being a good lawyer and most clients make an assumption that lawyers know the law anyway. So knowledge of the law provides a very limited competitive advantage in most jurisdictions. The real value of lawyers is in their ability to apply the law to a particular situation and no one really knows whether a lawyer is good at that until they have worked together. Construction Law in the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf will allow readers to judge this for themselves in my case.
Construction Law in the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf is published by John Wiley & Sons, 2016