General provisions applicable to Part 4 under reg.114 Public Contracts Regulations 2015

Reg.114 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 (PCR2015) closes its Part 4 and sets two general provisions (see Pedro's brief comments here). Before looking at them in detail, it is worth reminding that Part 4 (regs. 105 to 114 PCR2015): (a) expands (both ex ante and ex post) transparency obligations domestically by requiring publications in Contracts Finder and, in particular, creates transparency obligations for below EU-threshold contracts (regs.110 and 112PCR2015); (b) restricts the use of PQQs (either prohibiting them for below threshold contracts, or limiting them to a standardised PQQ); and (c) reinforces some obligations to pay promptly.

Reg.114(2) PCR2015 establishes that nothing in Part 4 requires a contracting authority to disclose any information if it considers that the disclosure would be contrary to the security interests of the United Kingdom. There is not much to say about this, other than stressing the need to interpret this provision in very narrow terms and subject it to a strict proportionality analysis--ultimately based on the case law concerned with Art 36 TFEU and its functional equivalents when it comes to derogating from internal market freedoms on the basis of public interest and security concerns.

More importantly, reg.114(1) PCR2015 declares that a material failure to comply with any requirement of Part 4 does not, of itself, affect the validity of a public contract that has been entered into. This creates uncertainty as to the consequences of such a breach, particularly because the remedies in Part 3 are not available for breaches of duties under Part 4 (see reg.98 PCR2105, and comments here). 

However, at least where the contract is of cross-border interest, it is quite clear that reg.114(1) PCR2015 would be contrary to the case law of the CJEU, at least in relation to infringements relating to reg.110 PCR2015 if they resulted in excessively diminished levels of ex ante transparency. In that regard, it is worth stressing that contracts covered by reg.110 can be of cross-border interest despite not meeting the value thresholds of reg.5 PCR2015.

In those cases, a consolidated body of case law of the CJEU  (mainly, Telaustria and Telefonadress, C-324/98, EU:C:2000:669; and Coname, C-231/03, EU:C:2005:487) has imposed certain obligations derived from the general principles of EU law (now consolidated in reg.18 PCR2015). Amongst those obligations, there is a relatively undefined requirement to ensure a 'sufficient degree of advertising', or ex ante transparency [for discussion, see C Risvig Hansen, Contracts Not Covered or Not Fully Covered by the Public Sector Directive (Copenhagen, DJØF, 2012) 121-160 (cross-border interest) and 161-186 (transparency)]. 

In its most recent formulation, the CJEU has reiterated that 'the principles of equal treatment and of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality impose, particularly on the contracting authority, a duty of transparency, consisting in the duty to ensure, for the benefit of any potential tenderer, a degree of publicity sufficient to enable the award procedure to be opened up to competition and the impartiality of that procedure to be reviewed, without necessarily implying an obligation to call for tenders' (Comune di Ancona, C-388/12, EU:C:2013:734, para 46). Thus, infringements of rules requiring ex ante disclosure of contract opportunities can imply breaches of EU law--provided there is a cross-border interest for the contract.

Thus, it is not clear at all that reg.114(1) PCR2015 suffices to actually create a legal situation whereby 'a material failure to comply with any requirement of Part 4 [PCR2015] does not, of itself, affect the validity of a public contract that has been entered into', so contracting authorities should not disregard the importance of compliance therewith.