Legal Market Overview
The English Bar’s specialised advocacy skills, exceptional expertise in niche areas, and flexibility makes it a popular choice for law firms in Asia, with many counsel having strong relations with firms in the region.
As a key hub for international arbitration thanks to its political and legal predictability, Singapore continues to be a key generator of work for the English Bar, with some sets opening offices in the ‘Little Red Dot’ to capitalise on proximity to the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC). Hong Kong still has relevance, primarily for local and Chinese disputes. However, the political situation in the territory is leading to concerns about the long-term impartiality of the political and judicial systems, even if ‘One Country, Two Systems’ is largely functioning as intended in the commercial arena.
In mainland China itself, the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (Cietac) is popular even if many non-Chinese parties continue to have reservations. With South Korea a growing arbitral venue, English sets have sought to maximise strong relationships with major Korean law firms so as to represent Korea’s largest construction companies in English-language Korean arbitrations. Other venues of course exist – Vietnam International Arbitration Centre clauses being popular locally – however, they still remain somewhat exotic.
Free zones which offer an ‘island’ of common law in a less familiar jurisdiction, and typically allow foreign practitioners to appear before the courts with relative ease, have not taken off in the Asia Pacific region in the same way they have in the Middle East, although one litigation forum of note is the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC). While a division of the Singapore High Court, it aims to generate work as an alternative to arbitration in contracts and also has a very flexible policy for allowing non-Singaporean lawyers to practice. However, it is still early days for the SICC, with much of its caseload having been directly transferred from the Singapore High Court itself.
Members of the Bar may also seek temporary admission in compatible jurisdictions. Nevertheless, this chapter primarily covers international arbitration, primarily in Asia but also, to a limited extent, elsewhere in the world but with Asian instructing solicitors and parties.
This section covers individuals who practice as members of English sets of chambers, irrespective of their nationality of qualification. Most are primarily based in London and travel frequently to the region, but a small minority are located full-time in Asia Pacific, either in Hong Kong or Singapore.
An ‘excellent set‘, 3 Verulam Buildings is particularly well-connected in the India and Singapore markets. The set’s ‘service and clerking are superb’, with senior clerks Stuart Pullum and Steve Penson praised by instructing solicitors and clients for being ‘very focussed on the delivery of service and transparency of fees’. Work areas in Asia include a range of commercial disputes, as well as some construction and engineering disputes. Offices in: London
39 Essex Chambers’ Asian workload centres round international arbitration, with much of it focusing on construction and engineering, and includes members who sit as arbitrators. Alastair Davidson and Michael Kaplan are the senior clerks, with Niki Merison and Mark Winrow senior practice managers relevant to construction law; Roderick Noble, director of Asian business, is well-connected in Malaysia and Singapore, where he is based. Offices in: London, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur
According to clients, 4 Pump Court is an ‘active, and very good’ set for Asia-related instructions. The chambers is best known for construction, energy, and engineering work. Well-regarded joint senior clerks Carl Wall and Stewart Gibbs, along with deputy senior clerks Oliver Miney and Lucy Burrows, are key contacts. The set maintains a Hong Kong office under the name Pump Court International, is well connected in Mainland China, and has also developed contacts in Australia. Carolyn McCombe is now the practice director at Hardwicke. Offices in: London, Hong Kong
7 Kings Bench Walk has a track record of instructions across a range of shipping and arbitration work, which naturally takes it to the Asia Pacific region. Bernie Hyatt and Greg Leyden are the joint senior clerks. In recent news, practice development and marketing director Brian Lee has retired from chambers. Offices in: London
‘The go-to set for construction and engineering disputes’, according to many clients, infrastructure, and projects specialist set Atkin Chambers has ‘a depth and breadth of good construction law counsel and a very strong pool of arbitrators’. In addition to praise for the talent in the senior ranks, clients also say the set’s junior counsel ‘also show a good understanding of the construction industry and the law’. The clerks are ‘all very friendly and professional’ – starting at the top, director of clerking David Barnes ‘leads the chambers brilliantly – he is very solutions-oriented and a pleasure to deal with understanding the needs of instructing solicitors located on the other side of the world’; key names also include senior clerk Justin Wilson and ADR clerk Daniel Jones and the aforementioned more senior members of the team are ‘supported by excellent junior clerks’. Offices in: London
Blackstone Chambers‘ senior ranks include Harish Salve, a well-regarded Indian Senior Advocate, while a number of its junior tenants have previous experience of qualification in Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong. The set benefits from having a number of its silks having appeared in public law matters before the Hong Kong courts. Gary Oliver is the senior clerk. Offices in: London
Brick Court Chambers’ Charles Hollander QC, who has a track record of international arbitration and other commercial disputes, is also called to the Hong Kong Bar and regularly practices there. Paul Dennison and Tony Burgess became joint senior clerks in August 2018 after the retirement of Ian Moyler and are the key contacts to note at the set. Offices in: London
Essex Court Chambers is a well-regarded in London for commercial, arbitration and public international law work. Specifically, in Asia, the set has strong connections in Singapore, and also includes a Singapore law capability which operates under the name Essex Court Chambers Duxton (and is given due consideration in our coverage of dispute resolution in the jurisdiction). Joe Ferrigno is the senior clerk; Rachel Newman and Katie Myles head the clerking of the arbitrators and senior silks in London respectively. David Grief – formerly the set’s senior clerk – is the director of international business development. Offices in: London, Singapore
Fountain Court Chambers ‘is a well-known set, that is successfully branching out into Asia to cover the need for high-quality international arbitration counsel who can work well with solicitors’. The set has decades of connections with Singapore, and is particularly active there, including in the Singapore International Commercial Court as well as handling broader regional work, including instructions outside traditional advocacy such as acting as English law experts in Asian litigation and sitting as arbitrators. Gaurav Pachnanda SA – an Indian senior advocate – is a notable door tenant, as is Michael Brindle QC, who continues to sit as an arbitrator. In recent news, Darius Chan left Norton Rose Fulbright to join chambers as an independent counsel and arbitrator. Alex Taylor is the senior clerk and Katie Szewczyk and Sian Huckett his deputies; senior practice manager Caroline McConnon is based in Singapore. Offices in: London, Singapore
Keating Chambers is ‘top of the field for construction disputes’ according to its clients, with ‘very consistent quality throughout’. The set is best known for construction and engineering instructions, and in particular, has a number of members instructed as arbitrators alongside counsel work. The clerking at the set is ‘high-quality, open and honest’. ‘Very strong leadership’ in the clerks’ room is provided by the director of clerking Declan Redmond, who ‘doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations’. His team also includes deputy senior clerk Rob Cowup, who is ‘extremely responsive, proactive and a pleasure to deal with – an asset to the set’, and business development director Holly Gavaghan, who ‘has done a great job in raising the set’s profile in Singapore’; James Luxmoore, a senior practice manager responsible for junior silks and senior juniors, is ‘a rising star who builds relationships with solicitors easily’. Offices in: London
Monckton Chambers’ Asian connections include Thomas Sebastian, who has commercial and public international law expertise, and is also called to the Indian Bar. David Hockney is the senior clerk, and John Keegan his deputy. Offices in: London
One Essex Court is well-known as one of London’s elite commercial chambers, and that reputation carries well into Asia, where the set’s members are instructed in high-value international arbitrations. Darren Burrows is the senior clerk, and Kelly Lim a notable clerking contact based in the set’s Singapore base. Offices in: London, Singapore
Despite not maintaining any offices other than London, Quadrant Chambers is, according to some clients ‘the most visible chambers in the APAC region’. ‘It is, without doubt, a premier set in commercial and maritime law, as its barristers are very approachable, efficient and good at what they do – they also take into account, the needs of Asian clients and are better than others on inter-cultural issues’. Simon Slattery, who ‘visits Singapore regularly to introduce and promote the set’s barristers’, ‘is accommodating and flexible, suiting the demands of clients in Asia Pacific’ – he and the ‘outstanding’ Gary Ventura are the set’s co-senior clerks. Offices in: London
The 36 Group’s shipping and arbitration offerings appear under the banner of 36 Stone, members of which have ‘some top-quality expertise’. The clerks provide ‘particularly attentive, personal service’ – Zoe Bluck is the practice and business development manager of 36 Stone. Offices in: London, Singapore
Three Stone is well known in the UK for its expertise across a range of commercial and Chancery disputes, including ones with offshore elements, however, its members also have a track record in Asia-related instructions. Justin Brown is the senior clerk and go-to at the set. Offices in: London
The recently rebranded Twenty Essex is ‘a quality set active in the Asia Pacific region’ with maritime disputes and international arbitration the core areas of expertise for the set’s members. The set has an office in Maxwell Chambers, Singapore, with Rachel Foxton the key contact in the Little Red Dot; the relevant practice directors to note in London are Arron Zitver, Christopher Theobald, and Anthony Carroll. Offices in: London, Singapore