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Who can become a construction adjudicator?

Find out more on becoming a construction adjudicator.

Martin Burns, Head of DRS Research and Development
23 August 2021

Adjudication is the construction sector’s dispute resolution method of choice for several reasons:

  • It is quick – an adjudicator must normally issue a decision within 28 days of being seized with the dispute.

  • It is comparatively simple - the procedure from start to finish is prescribed in law in straightforward and plain language.

  • It is cost-effective - the relative speed and simplicity of the process renders it significantly cheaper than lengthy litigation or arbitration.

  • It is private- unlike the courts, what happens in adjudication remains confidential between the parties, and decisions are not published.

The person who actually adjudicates a dispute is someone agreed by the parties or, as often happens, someone nominated by an independent Adjudicator Nominating Body (ANB). The process by which different ANB’s nominate adjudicators vary. Most utilise a system whereby adjudicators are placed on a panel, and only those on the ANB panel will nominated.

The rationale is that an ANB will have recruited, possibly trained and most likely assessed/interviewed the adjudicators on its panel. It will therefore know and have confidence that the adjudicators it appoints are qualified and equipped to discharge the role.

Parties to disputes will often desire adjudicators with core skills and knowledge of the relevant subject matter that enables them to understand and deal with technical questions, which are pertinent to the issues in dispute. So, whilst anyone can become a construction adjudicator, the reality is that most adjudicators appointed by ANBs, are qualified construction professionals drawn from surveying, legal, architectural or engineering backgrounds.

Adjudicators need to be trained and qualified specifically in discharging the role of adjudicator. An appropriate understanding of law and procedure, and the ability to practically apply oneself as an adjudicator are imperatives. This is because adjudication is a quasi-judicial role, which results in binding decisions that can have significant consequences for individuals and businesses caught up in disputes.

It follows that, a key step on the way to becoming a construction adjudicator is the need to undertake a training course. The level of training (and assessment required) varies from ANB to ANB. Some panels demand minimal training, e.g. 1 or 2 days in law, practice and procedure. Some ANBs, particularly those which appoint the larger numbers of adjudicators, set the bar much higher.

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Possibly the toughest ANB panel to get on is the RICS panel. Aspiring adjudicators are currently required to complete an 18-month diploma in adjudication. This is a combined distance learning and face-to-face tutorial programme, which covers contract, tort, evidence and law applicable to adjudication practice and procedure, and decision writing.

The commitment, in terms of time and money, to getting qualified and onto an ANB panel varies, but it can be significant. At the same time getting on to the RICS panel, even when qualified, can never be guaranteed. A question arises, therefore, as to why someone would want to train and qualify as an adjudicator, when there is so much uncertainty of opportunity?

The starting point for replying to the question, should perhaps be a reiteration of the fact that, for anyone who aspires to being on the RICS panel, a diploma in adjudication, or equivalent qualification is requisite. If you want to be on the panel, you need to do the training. But there are other benefits to being trained. The diploma offers opportunities, not only get onto the RICS panel but also, to get onto adjudicator panels managed by other nominating bodies. An example is the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, which recognises the RICS diploma to the extent that successful candidates are entitled to apply for Fellowship of CIArb, without having to undertake further significant training and assessment.

Thirdly, parties are not obliged to use nominating bodies, such as RICS, and are free to choose who their adjudicator will be. Some parties name the person who will be their adjudicator in their contracts. Others may endeavour to agree the identity of their adjudicator when a dispute has arisen. In both cases, parties will want to be confident that their adjudicator is properly qualified and skilled. The RICS diploma signals that someone is trained and equipped to discharge the role of adjudicator. It thus gives graduates top quality credentials that will enable them to promote themselves as adjudicators in the wider market.  

During periods when RICS is not recruiting new adjudicators to its main panel, it is increasingly possible for diploma graduates to obtain experience in doing real adjudications through various schemes which RICS has developed, and/or is developing.

One example is the provision of bespoke adjudication under the JCT Building Contract for Home/Owner Occupiers. RICS Dispute Resolution Services, in conjunction with JCT, has designed a simplified form of adjudication for use on this contract, which is aimed largely at the consumer market. The adjudication service offers new adjudicators opportunity to practice the skills they have been taught, and give them experience in readiness for more complex and higher valuer disputes they may adjudicate in the future.

RICS has taken this “adjudicator nursery” initiative further by working with industry bodies such as the Construction Industry Council, to develop a bespoke adjudication procedure for low value disputes. A working party set up by the CIC, mapped out a simplified adjudication framework for claims valued at less than £50,000. The service was launched in May 2020 and is proving popular in the UK.

Adjudication as a method for determining construction disputes remains hugely popular. Over the past five years the numbers of adjudicators appointed by RICS has increased year on year. In 2020 almost 1500 adjudicators were appointed by RICS, and current indications are that the upward trend is continuing.

The continuing popularity of adjudication runs in parallel with increasing numbers of construction professionals who are keen to be adjudicators.

It is a role that requires specialist knowledge and practical ability, which is why training and qualifications are so important. Being trained and qualified is only part of the story. Just like passing a driving test, it is experience that hones skills acquired through training and makes a person a genuinely competent adjudicator. Qualifications, like the RICS diploma, provide professionals with opportunities to market themselves and gain experience in adjudication, as adjudicator and as party representative. RICS will continue to work behind the scenes to also generate opportunities for trained adjudicators to get their hands dirty doing real-life adjudications by means of services tailored for industry clients. 

Martin Burns