The Northern Ireland High Court has refused to lift an automatic suspension on a contract entered into by the Department of Employment and Learning (DoEL) for the provision of training services. The issue arose in the recently published judgment in the First4Skills case  NIQB 59. The issue arose in the context of a challenge over the DoEL’s application of certain selection criteria. Two unsuccessful bidders challenged the award of the contract during the statutory “standstill period”, which automatically suspends the contract until proceedings at first instance have been resolved. Following the first challenge the DoEL had already applied and failed to have the automatic suspension lifted. Following the second challenge by First4Skills Limited, the DoEL applied again to have the automatic suspension lifted. The court held that the regulations were not directed to individual disappointed bidders, but to “the impersonal issue of awarding the contract”. The reference to “proceedings” in the regulations should be taken as meaning any proceedings. The court said it would be “inappropriate” and “manifestly illogical” for the court to make a second ruling which would conflict with the first.
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High Court rules that a contracting authority can only apply once to have an automatic suspension lifted
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