NEC presentation

Member meeting


3 June 2014 London - NEC: the New Engineering Contract

The June Clarity breakfast featured the NEC contracts, a set of engineering contracts written in everday language, with many other user-friendly differences from traditional legal documents. Our speaker is Dr Martin Barnes, their originator and first author.


The following notes from his presentation are available.


  • Simplicity was a secondary objective in drafting the first NEC contract. The main objective was to improve management of construction projects and reduce disputes by motivating participants to cooperate, not fight, and to deal with problems while there are still solutions available, rather than leave it all to the end for the quantity surveyors, followed by solicitors, to sort out.
  • Each contract was designed using flowcharts (which have since been published), to plan what should happen in performing the contract.
  • Martin Barnes devised his own principles for achieving clarity and simplicity, but has never before been asked to identify them. They include, naturally, short sentences, lists and bullets, familiar words, the simplest possible language, and verbs all in the present tense. (Except the clause saying the participants “shall act as stated” which, one participant suggested, made the other statements of present fact into obligations.)
  • The NEC contract is used for nearly all civil engineering contracts in the UK, and increasingly for construction, but its publishers (the Institution of Civil Engineers) have never made any attempt to promote its use, or the NEC approach, in any new area.
  • The NEC contract assumes all participants in the project are male (he, him). It was suggested that the next edition might correct this gender bias by assuming a female Project Manager (she, her) or corporate contracting parties (it).
  • Dr Barnes would like to hear more about why NEC contracts have not yet caught on in New Zealand and the USA as they have in the rest of the English-speaking world. He can be contacted at