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A year in the life of a columnist - half way to success

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legal matters

'In May 1998 the hgcr Act came into force. Hastily conceived after a whirlwind romance between Sir Michael Latham and the construction industry, its swift gestation was followed by a difficult delivery'

It was a year ago that my (rather grim) face first appeared on these pages. I once read a piece by a Sunday Times columnist writing in the Sunday Times about writing columns for the Sunday Times (who says journalists are lazy these days). It said that it takes two years for a column to develop a following, and that if the location of the column is moved it takes readers six months to find it again.

On that basis, provided the learned editor preserves this slot, I am half way there. It also said that the secret of writing a successful column is to decide what it is for and remind yourself frequently. This is a tricky one (particularly for those writing for the Sundays, I suspect). Is the intention to inform? To entertain? To whip up a bit of controversy? As penance for adopting the lazy journalists device of and looking back on the important events of this column's first year, I shall attempt to do it all - in the style of something I have recently become for the second time - a mother.

In May l998, the provisions for adjudication and payment in the hgcr Act came into force. Hastily conceived after a whirlwind romance between Sir Michael Latham and the construction industry, the legislation's swift gestation was followed by a difficult delivery, hampered by delay in the development of its sibling, the Government Scheme.

These twin statutory bodies were oohed and aahed at and much talked about for their first few months, but even though the jct announced their arrival with Amendment 18, little was done with them. In October, Dominic Helps of construction solicitor, Shadbolts, tried to explain why the new legislation had been taken for only a dozen or so outings in the first six months of its life. Since then the new process has come out of its infancy and is up and toddling about. The speculation as to where the majority of adjudicators will come from has ended for the time being. It seems that it is members of the rics who have most frequently been entrusted with the care of these new powers.

As proud godparents, the judges at the Technology and Construction Courts have tried to keep the fledglings on the straight and narrow. In the recent cases of Macob and Outwing they have made it clear that the adjudicator (or nanny) knows best and that adjudication will be supported and summarily enforced by the courts.

So far there has been no need for the courts to take the nannies to task for failing in their duties to their charges. Meanwhile the usual dramas have been acted out in the arbitration/litigation inter-fora sports day. S.9 of the Arbitration Act triumphed for a short time over litigation for those with arbitration clauses in their contracts, until the jct changed the rules and introduced an arbitration clause with an option. Too late, the case of Beaufort Developments ended the 15-year reign of Crouch as playground bully, pushing contractors claims off to arbitration whether they liked it or not. Now the teams enjoy a level playing-field with free choice as to forum. This has not stopped the usual questions being asked about the standard of refereeing in arbitration. And at the school gates lurks the Big Bad Woolf, bent on turning the world of the hard-pressed lawyer upside down.

Paul Hyett told me that if you can write a column for a year you can earn a living as a journalist - do you think there is a future for me with the Sundays?

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