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Asia Pacific: The English Bar

Asia Pacific: The English Bar > Law firm and leading lawyer rankings



The specialist advocacy skills of the English Bar have made it a popular choice for international arbitration. In order to attract Asian clients, a number of sets of chambers have opened up offices in the region, offering members as either arbitration counsel or arbitrators. The degree to which sets station individuals in these satellites varies but few English barristers are permanently based in Asia; many carry out work on a ‘fly-in fly-out’ basis. The Queen’s Counsel system is key in Asia – only juniors with significant experience in the region or specialist expertise are desired.

The Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) is one of the leading arbitration institutions in Asia Pacific and worldwide. One of its key advantages is the city itself; it benefits from the perception that Singapore, while a major commercial centre, is a ‘neutral’ ground for dispute resolution. In addition, unlike some other jurisdictions, the Singaporean judiciary adopts an English-style laissez-faire approach to arbitration, meaning there is limited concern about judicial interference. 20 Essex Street, Essex Court Chambers, One Essex Court, 39 Essex Chambers, Stone Chambers and Fountain Court Chambers have capitalised on this by opening offices in Singapore – mostly in Maxwell Chambers, a building which contains both arbitral hearing rooms and offices for lawyers. The newly established Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) is a division of the Singaporean High Court designed for transnational commercial disputes; while it is officially part of the court system, it promotes itself in the way an arbitral centre would. Most experienced foreign lawyers can gain rights of audience after paying a SG$300 fee, not unlike the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) courts.

Hong Kong is also a popular venue. Compared to Singapore, it is more difficult for the English Bar to operate in due to a restrictive work permit policy and a protectionist local Bar, but neither has not stopped 4 Pump Court participating in Arbitration Chambers Hong Kong, a joint venture with Arbitration Asia and CMS. The Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC) remains popular for Chinese arbitrations, as well as construction and shipping disputes.

The Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration (KLRCA) is also seeking to develop a reputation as a key player in international arbitration, and 39 Essex Chambers was the first set to launch in the city in 2014. Users of the KLRCA point to its relative affordability compared to its neighbour on the other side of the Johore Strait, as well as its aim to seek different kinds of disputes, for example ones relating to Islamic finance. In 2014, the KLRCA moved to state-of-the-art new premises, five times larger than its previous home, in a bid to compete with other key arbitration hubs in Asia.

The arbitral centres in mainland China are seen as becoming increasingly important, and the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC) in Beijing and the Shanghai International Arbitration Centre are of particular note. In addition, India is slowly growing in prominence on the international arbitration scene since the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) opened up in New Delhi in 2009, however the SIAC remains particularly popular with Indian clients. Other emerging venues include South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand, although none have made waves on the world stage as of yet.

3 Verulam Buildings is ‘a strong set’, particularly for financial services dispute resolution. Numerous members have experience handling cases outside the UK, and for many, there is a focus on arbitrations involving south Asia. The set also provides niche expertise in investor-state disputes, through barristers such as Tariq Baloch, James Evans and Christopher Harris. Led by senior practice manager Stephen Penson, the clerks are ‘refreshingly aware of modern business requirements and constraints’.

4 Pump Court is one of London’s top sets for construction, shipping, IT and telecoms disputes. Members include Lord Hope of Craighead, deputy president of the United Kingdom Supreme Court from 2009 to 2013. Numerous barristers at this set make up part of Arbitration Chambers Hong Kong. Joint senior clerks Carl Wall and Stewart Gibbs are key contacts.

7 King’s Bench Walk is recommended for its varied workload. Barristers have experience handling cases across Asia in the capacity of counsel and arbitrator. Areas of strength include commodities, maritime and insurance arbitrations. Bernie Hyatt and Greg Leyden are the senior clerks. Practice development and marketing director Brian Lee is another key contact.

20 Essex Street is ‘respected for its deep commercial and arbitration expertise’. Members, including retired judges, act as arbitrators and counsel in investment treaty, shipping and commercial cases, among other areas. Chambers has had an office in Singapore since 2010, which houses two full-time members, Simon Milnes and Nakul Dewan. Door tenant Michael Pryles, called to the Bar in Australia and Singapore, is the chairman of SIAC. Key names in the clerking and administrative team include senior clerk Neil Palmer, director of strategic development James Huckle and head of practice support Rachel Foxton.

39 Essex Chambers contains highly respected silks, and ‘an unlimited supply of extremely bright junior barristers’, who are ‘commercial and responsive’. Chambers has offices in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur as well as two practice managers situated in Asia: Julianna Wong and the ‘extremely well-connected’ Roderick Noble. 20 Essex Street’s Ben Olbourne and King & Wood Mallesons’s David Bateson recently joined the set and are based in the region, as is Rashda Rana SC. Chief executive and director of clerking David Barnes is ‘very strong at building and maintaining relationships with instructing solicitors in the region’; he has ‘the inherent ability to recommend a good barrister for a particular set of issues’. Senior practice manager Owen Lawrence is also ‘well known with a great network of contacts in Singapore’.

Atkin Chambers has an emphasis on construction and energy disputes. Members appear in arbitrations worldwide, including across Asia and the Pacific Rim. Construction specialist Andrew Goddard QC has a particular focus on Hong Kong, where he has ad hoc rights of audience before the domestic courts and a strong arbitration practice. In the clerking team, Justin Wilson is the senior clerk, and Daniel Jones manages arbitral appointments.

With a particularly strong India practice, Blackstone Chambers’ members include Harish Salve SA, a senior advocate of the Indian Bar and former Solicitor General of India. The set is well known for commercial disputes, and has an exceptional track record in public law. With regards to the latter, Lord Pannick QC and Monica Carss-Frisk QC have been instructed by the Hong Kong government in high-profile public law cases before the domestic courts. Gary Oliver is chambers’ senior clerk.

Essex Court Chambers is a ‘high-quality set with a good reputation’ for commercial, shipping and energy cases. The set has had an office in Singapore since 2010, and members regularly handle cases on a ‘fly-in, fly-out’ basis. The ‘very effective and always reliable’ senior clerk David Grief works alongside deputy senior clerk Joe Ferrigno; together, they are ‘always attentive to the needs of clients and manage relationships very well’.

Fountain Court Chambers has a long association with Singapore that dates back to the 1980s, and is a strong choice for high-value commercial disputes both in the city and elsewhere in Asia. Members include Professor Lawrence Boo, a leading Singaporean arbitrator and legal academic. Asia practice manager Caroline McConnon is based in the Singapore office, which launched in 2014. In London, the primary contact is senior clerk Alex Taylor.

One Essex Court’s ‘barristers, from silks to juniors, are second to none’. The set, which focuses on commercial dispute resolution both in and out of the courts, has had an office in Singapore since 2012. Kelly Lim leads the clerking team in Singapore. In London, Darren Burrows is ‘an excellent senior clerk’, and Lorraine Williams manages arbitral appointments.

Quadrant Chambers’ barristers represent clients in both wet and dry shipping, aviation and commodities disputes worldwide as well as more general commercial arbitration. Door tenant Ian Koh of WongPartnership LLP has experience as an arbitrator under SIAC and CIETAC rules. The ‘truly excellent’ Gary Ventura and the ‘commercially minded’ Simon Slattery are the joint senior clerks.

Stone Chambers is ‘growing with the addition of more shipping barristers’ in Singapore, joining shipping stalwart Andrew Moran QC, who has been based at the Singapore office since its inception in 2013. Members also continue to handle high-value instructions relating to commerce on dry land. The set includes members called to the Bars of Asian jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, Brunei and Australia. Chambers executive officer Luke Irons and director of clerking J-P Schulz are key contacts.

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