Disputes and risk allocation

Dispute resolution

How are disputes between the government and defence contractor resolved?

Disputes between the government and a defence contractor regarding matters of contract performance will be resolved in accordance with the dispute resolution procedure contained in the contract. It is common for a defence contract to incorporate DEFCON 530 (DEFCONs are MoD defence conditions), which provides for disputes to be resolved by way of confidential arbitration in accordance with the Arbitration Act 1996.

For disputes regarding matters of contract award, how disputes are resolved will depend on which legislative regime the procurement process falls under. Where the DSPCR applies, there is a formal process under which suppliers may apply to the court to review the actions of the contracting authority during the procurement process, and the remedies available (which differ depending on whether the contract has been entered into or not).

Where the SSCRs apply, either of the disputing parties may request that the Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO) makes a binding determination in certain circumstances. This determination will take precedence over any contractual dispute resolution procedure.

To what extent is alternative dispute resolution used to resolve conflicts? What is typical for this jurisdiction?

DEFCON 530 requires the disputing parties to attempt, in good faith, to resolve disputes that may include alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures, before commencing arbitration. The most appropriate form of ADR depends on the size and nature of the dispute but the most common form remains mediation. ADR will remain available once the arbitration is under way.

ADR is also available to parties in disputes concerning a contract award. Under the DSPCR, before proceedings can be commenced, the challenger must provide the contracting authority with details of its claim and its intention to start proceedings, which provides an opportunity for the parties to try to resolve the dispute. However, owing to the short time limits for pursuing a procurement claim (typically 30 days from the date the supplier knew or ought to have known of the grounds giving rise to the breach), time is extremely limited for the parties to engage in any formal ADR process at this stage. ADR will be available to the parties as a parallel confidential process during any litigation.


What limits exist on the government’s ability to indemnify the contractor in this jurisdiction and must the contractor indemnify the government in a defence procurement?

The legal limits on the government’s ability to indemnify a contractor apply to any business-to-business contract; they are not defence-­specific. These limitations mainly stem from the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, which makes certain terms excluding or limiting liability ineffective or subject to reasonableness. There may also be public policy reasons for an indemnity not to be valid; for example, the government cannot indemnify a contractor for civil or criminal penalties incurred by the contractor if the contractor intentionally and knowingly committed the act giving rise to the penalty.

The MoD also has a commercial policy on when it can give indemnities. The MoD says this policy can offer a limited range of indemnities for specific risks, but that the MoD should not offer indemnities outside of this unless there are exceptional circumstances.

There are no statutory or legal obligations on a contractor to indemnify the government. Indemnities given by the contractor result from negotiation, although indemnities included in the initial draft contract issued by the government may not be negotiable depending on which contract award procedure is used.

If the government does request indemnities from the contractor, these are likely to focus on some of the following issues:

  • third-party claims for loss or damage to property, or personal injury or death;
  • damage to government property;
  • product liability claims;
  • infringement of a third party’s intellectual property; and
  • breach of confidentiality.

Some DEFCONs contain indemnities relating to these issues.

Limits on liability

Can the government agree to limit the contractor’s liability under the contract? Are there limits to the contractor’s potential recovery against the government for breach?

In principle, the government can agree to limit the contractor’s liability under the contract. However, the MoD’s policy is to not accept a limit unless it represents value for money. The contract award procedure used by the government will determine the extent to which this position is negotiable.

For certain heads of loss not restricted by statute, the government can limit its own liability under contract. This is unusual but would limit the contractor’s potential to recover against the government for breach.

Risk of non-payment

Is there risk of non-payment when the government enters into a contract but does not ensure there are adequate funds to meet the contractual obligations?

There is a risk of non-payment, as with all customers. However, the MoD’s policy, even if the MoD procures under the DSPCR, is to comply with Regulation 113 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, which requires public sector buyers to pay prime contractors (Tier 1 suppliers) undisputed, valid invoices within 30 days. Generally, the risk of non-payment for an undisputed, valid invoice by the MoD is perceived to be very low.

Parent guarantee

Under what circumstances must a contractor provide a parent guarantee?

The government should specify in its initial tender documentation whether it may require a parent company guarantee (PCG). If it is not specified in that documentation, the government should not, in theory, be able to ask for one later in the contract-award process. The government will assess a bidder’s financial position during the qualification stage and determine whether it believes the company has the economic and financial capacity to deliver and perform the contract. If it does not believe that this is the case (eg, if a bidder is a special purpose vehicle set up specifically for a contract) then when the successful bidder is chosen, the government will determine whether a PCG is required. The MoD’s standard-form PCG is set out in DEFFORM 24.