The prevention principle
Produced in partnership with Tim James Seal

The following Construction practice note produced in partnership with Tim James Seal provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • The prevention principle
  • The meaning and nature of the prevention principle
  • Delay claims
  • Notification provisions
  • Concurrent delay
  • Other situations in which the principle did not apply

The prevention principle

This Practice Note considers the meaning and nature of the prevention principle and its relevance to delay claims in construction projects. It also considers the application of the principle to notification provisions and to concurrent delay.

The meaning and nature of the prevention principle

At its simplest, the meaning of the prevention principle in English law is that a party cannot benefit from its own wrong—ie a party cannot benefit from its own breach or act of prevention.

In a construction context, the words of Jackson J (as he then was) in Multiplex v Honeywell are a helpful starting point on the meaning of the principle:

'….the essence of the prevention principle is that the promisee cannot insist upon the performance of an obligation which he has prevented the promisor from performing'

Some guidance as to the nature of the prevention principle was provided by the Court of Appeal in North Midland v Cyden, in which the court had to consider whether the principle rendered inoperable a clause allocating the risk of concurrent delay to the contractor (for more on which, see Concurrent delay below). In its judgment, the court concluded that the prevention principle:

  1. was not an overriding rule of public or legal policy (in contrast with, for example, the rule against penalties)

  2. could only sensibly operate by way of implied terms—eg implied terms requiring the

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