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March 12, 2024 Feature

International Construction Contracts and the FIDIC Red Book: A New Important Commentary By Christopher Seppala

Philip L. Bruner

American lawyers representing clients in international construction disputes under contract terms referencing the FIDIC Red Book should acquaint themselves promptly with the newly published The FIDIC Red Book Contract: An International Clause-by-Clause Commentary (Wolters Kluwer 2023). The FIDIC Red Book currently is the world’s most widely used set of international construction contract terms and conditions.

This comprehensive book is authored in its entirety by the distinguished Parisian lawyer Christopher R. Seppala, who is one of the world’s leading experts on FIDIC contracts through his service for more than 30 years as legal adviser to the FIDIC Contracts Committee of the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (known by its French acronym FIDIC). Mr. Seppala also brings his own international background to his work, having been born and schooled in England, educated at Harvard College and Columbia Law School, and admitted to the New York and Parisian Bars. In 1988 he founded the international arbitration practice of the Paris office of White and Case and since then has devoted his career to contract dispute resolution.

Throughout the 1414 pages of his heavily footnoted book, Mr. Seppala not only provides a detailed analysis of each clause of the FIDIC Red Book as updated in 2022, but offers commentary on a host of other subjects important to gaining a more complete understanding of the FIDIC Red Book, such as:

(1) the history of the FIDIC Red Book from its English origins and language modeled upon the conditions of contract promulgated by the United Kingdom’s Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE);

(2) the many universal legal principles applicable to construction contracts, starting with a comparison of principles based on distinctive features of common law (primarily UK and commonwealth countries) and civil law, together with the 2016 UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts (of which he was a member of the working group). His analysis includes key concepts, such as the duty of good faith, duty of disclosure, defense of non-performance (similar to the US’s “first material breach” doctrine), notice of default, contract termination, liquidated damages, force majeure and hardship, limitation of damages, trade usages, and others;

(3) the common law and civil law approaches to contract legal interpretation; and

(4) dispute resolution of international construction disputes under FIDIC’s prescribed Dispute Avoidance/Adjudication Board (DAAB).

In the forward to Mr. Seppala’s book, the Honorable Sir Vivian Ramsey, the former Chief Judge of England’s Technology and Construction Court, writes:

[This book] provides helpful guidance on issues which arise on any international construction contract. It also reflects the knowledge and experience of a lifetime dealing with these contracts. Chris is to be congratulated for the dedication and sheer hard work which has gone into this Magnum Opus.

To Sir Vivian’s wise counsel may be added my own concurrence and commendation for Mr. Seppala’s book: No law firm that advises clients on international construction contracts subject to the FIDIC Red Book should be without Mr. Seppala’s fine contribution to our understanding of one of the most important sets of contract documents in the field of international construction law.

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By Philip L. Bruner

JAMS Global Engineering

Philip L. Bruner, [email protected] , is the co-author, with Patrick J. O’Conner, of Bruner and O’Connor on Construction Law, and received the 2005 Cornerstone Award of the Forum on Construction Law. He is an arbitrator and mediator and the director of the JAMS Global Engineering and Construction Panel of Neutrals. (See his CV at