SITA v Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority (GMWDA) − first major case to apply the Uniplex ruling

The recent European case of Uniplex has clarified the law on the limitation period for claimants to bring a claim for damages under the Public Contracts Regulations 2006. The Regulations state that the claim must be brought within three months of the date on which grounds for the claim first arose. The Uniplex decision made it clear that the three month period will only start once the claimant has (or ought to have had) the relevant knowledge rather than the date of the breach itself.

The recent case of SITA v GMWDA is the first UK case to be decided in light of the Uniplex ruling. The facts are that GMWDA ran a competition for a £3 billion project which would be the largest of its kind in the UK. In the later stages, Viridor Laing was appointed preferred bidder, with the SITA consortium as reserve bidder. SITA was sent an "unsuccessful bidder" letter accordingly on 18 April 2008. SITA alleged that there had been a breach of the Regulations as the final form of the contract had introduced new elements and that SITA ought to have been brought back into the competition. GWMDA argued that SITA was outside the three month window in which to bring a claim. SITA's answer was that it did not know whether it had actually suffered an actionable loss until it possessed the information it obtained outside that period.

The High Court ruled that a claimant is fixed with knowledge from the time it knows of the breach, regardless of whether any loss is also apparent at that point.

This decision is good news for contracting authorities as it shows that bidders do not have a carte blanche to "sit on their hands" but rather they must bring a claim as soon as they have knowledge of a breach, regardless of whether any loss/damage is yet apparent.