Public international law (PIL) covers a wide variety of disciplines, but for the purpose of this section, the rankings are primarily identifying those barristers with a strong focus on state v state disputes, state immunity, sanctions, and investment treaty arbitrations. There is inevitably some overlap with other categories such as public law and international human rights law, but for a more exhaustive review of experts in those fields, please see the separate civil liberties and human rights and administrative and public law chapters.
Public international law in London Bar
3 Verulam Buildings is now a well-established presence in the field of public international law. The set’s credentials are especially strong at the junior end, where it fields several members with enviable track records in investment treaty arbitrations. The set’s barristers regularly work together, such as in the ICSID dispute Carlyle v Morocco concerning the SAMIR oil refinery, in which Christopher Harris QC is leading Mark Wassouf and Cameron Miles on behalf of the Kingdom of Morocco. Harris QC has been one of the practice’s drivers over the past few years, and is also representing the respondent state in the Stati v Kazakhstan Energy Charter Treaty arbitration.
‘The set of barristers are very well organised.’
‘The clerks are willing to be pragmatic and flexible on fees where necessary, and understand the constraints under which solicitors are working.’
Blackstone Chambers has long been one of the pre-eminent chambers for public international law, particularly in the crossover with public law and human rights law, as well as related areas of state and diplomatic immunity. Maurice Mendelson QC remains a leading figure in the market, while Timothy Otty QC has built upon his superb reputation for human rights matters and is increasingly active on the investment treaty side. Several leading juniors are also making strong names for themselves. Paul Luckhurst managed a Supreme Court victory in Janah and Benkharbouche v Secretary of State, a matter concerning National Minimum Wage claims by staff at the Sudanese embassy in London, and is currently pursuing the UK for damages in the European Court of Human Rights. Jason Pobjoy successfully defended the Foreign Secretary's position on diplomatic immunity in R (Charles) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, a High Court case concerning the death of motorcyclist Harry Dunn, who was killed in 2019 after he was struck by a car being driven by the wife of an alleged CIA operative.
Essex Court Chambers has an excellent reputation for public international law, where 'despite a heavy workload, the counsel have been available for working with us and for providing the expected qualities'. The set stands out for its combination of commercial and academic nous, with a selection of top quality silks and juniors who straddle both worlds with ease. Members are regularly involved in major state versus state cases, including maritime boundary matters such as Mauritius v Maldives where Alison Macdonald QC represented the former against Prof Alan Boyle and Naomi Hart for the latter. Members are also regularly involved in high-profile international arbitrations involving states, including Boonyanit v Malaysia, a matter concerning the treatment of fraudulent transfers under the latter's land law where Sam Wordsworth QC and Lucas Bastin represented the claimant, the estate of a Thai national. Toby Landau QC left the chambers and is now practicing from Singapore.
‘All clerks were immensely helpful. Ben Perry, whom I communicated with over the years, should be particularly noted.’
Matrix Chambers has an excellent pedigree for public international law, particularly for cases that intersect with human rights and civil liberties. In addition ICSID investment treaty disputes, members regularly appear before the ICJ on state versus state cases, including maritime and boundary disputes. Notable cases include a maritime boundary dispute between Somalia and Kenya, in which Philippe Sands QC is leading Edward Craven on behalf of Somalia. Sands is also representing Congo, alongside Michelle Butler in Democratic Republic of the Congo v Uganda, which concerns the presence of Ugandan troops in eastern parts of the DRC during Joseph Kabila’s first term as president, before the ICJ. Another highlight is Zachary Douglas QC‘ lead role for the claimants in LLC Lugzor and others v Russian Federation, an investor-state dispute concerning Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014.
Twenty Essex fields a selection of the market's top public international law barristers, with a commendable range of expertise at the most senior and junior levels. Several, such as Sir Michael Wood KCMG and Sir Daniel Bethlehem QC came from distinguished legal careers at the UK Foreign Office, and bring a mixture of public and private expertise to a broad range of major international disputes. Notable case highlights include Islamic Republic of Iran v United States of America, concerning the question of whether the rights victims of Iranian terrorism to pursue compensation in the US courts is a treaty violation; Bethlehem is leading Belinda McRae on behalf of the USA, with Philippa Webb a member of the opposing team. Bethlehem, Webb, Wood, Sudhanshu Swaroop QC and Guglielmo Verdirame QC are also representing Italy in the MB Enrica Lexie case between India and Italy, concerning an incident where two Italian Navy marines protecting a commercial ship were detained by Indian forces after two fishermen were found shot dead off the coast of Kerala.
‘Excellent set for PIL.’