UK Grenfell disaster highlights importance of long-term legal and risk issues


While Covid-19 will fade as an issue, a reminder that tragedies like Grenfell sometimes result from long-term problems that need addressing.

Fenwick Elliott’s Nicholas Gould has reminded legal experts that Covid-19 will fade as an issue, but tragedies like the Grenfell fire sometimes result from longer-term, systemic problems that need addressing.

“Just putting Covid-19 into context, it is a passing moment – one that had an impact on our lives, on the construction sector and on legal contracts. But it will pass,” Gould explained, contrasting that with risk transfer, saying, “from a legal context the issue of appropriate risk transfer is an issue that has been with us for years.”

Gould, who speaking at a legal forum session at FIDIC’s Global Infrastructure Conference, illustrated the problem, saying: “In the UK we had the Grenfell tragedy and it led to a realisation that we had many buildings that had the wrong approach to fire safety that would, if they burned down, face the same problem.” Worryingly, he warned that checks for building safety are not yet being done in a joined-up way.

In order to bring down risk in the long-run, Gould asked whether industry could do more off-site. “Should we not seriously now be looking at true off-site construction with full components that can be brought to site in a sustainable way?” he said.

Sustainability is another much longer term issue with government goals for zero carbon. He stressed that “Government legislation will need improving and will be improved”, but then warned that contracts had to adapt too. “We are going to see contract terms develop off the back of government and client sustainability agendas,” said Gould.

He then suggested that this was important because “we will see green baseline clauses and termination clauses that see supply chain companies taken off a project or framework, replaced by a greener company.”

Nicholas Gould was addressing a group of legal experts at the FIDIC Global Infrastructure Conference, bringing together global infrastructure leaders to address some of the biggest challenges the world faces.

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