Claimants in an adjudication had phone calls, one of them a long call, with the adjudicator’s office manager, who was also his wife. They discussed not only the claimants’ earlier adjudication claims but also the final account claim that was the subject of the adjudication in question. The practice manager subsequently brief ly outlined these matters to the adjudicator but, despite an enquiry from the defendants’ consultant as to what contact he had had with the claimants, he decided not to disclose the conversations. He also supported the claimants’ application for summary judgment. Had the rules of natural justice been broken?
Yes, said the court. An adjudicator should not have unilateral conversations with the parties because of the obvious risks involved. A fair-minded observer would conclude that it was inappropriate for a decision-maker who knows about, and fails to disclose, a unilateral material conversation, subsequently to say that it was not disclosable because it had taken place with his practice manager/wife, not him personally. It gave rise to a real possibility that the adjudicator was biased, a possibility supported by the adjudicator’s denial, in response to the enquiry from the defendants’ consultant, of any contact at all with the claimants. And an adjudicator who was so concerned to see one side win that he supported their application for summary judgment, in trenchant terms, was at risk of having lost all objectivity, and again demonstrated a real possibility of bias.