Construction lawyers have criticised the JCT for delaying the release of its digital contracts.

The digital service, which is meant to make it easier and cheaper for firms to draw up contracts, was first publicised in June when it was said it would be on sale this autumn. It will now be available just a few days before the Christmas break.

Publisher Sweet & Maxwell, which is producing the contracts, said last month the service would be on sale in November, but this week admitted it had been delayed till 20 December.

Helen Garthwaite, of law firm Taylor Wessing, said the delay was a disappointment for firms wanting to start the new year using digital contracts. She said: “It’s not much use making it available on 20 December if the industry shuts down for business on the 23 December - it’s as good as putting it off until 2006.”

A spokesperson for Sweet & Maxwell said the service had been delayed because of concerns that it was not meeting performance guidelines.

He said: “Our IT team says there are some quality assurance issues and the JCT was happy to delay the launch to make sure there are no problems. The IT people are confident 20 December is something we can meet.”

The Construction Confederation said the delay was unfortunate but firms could use hard copies of the contracts in the meantime.