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James Howells QC Barrister Atkin Chambers

James Howells QC

Silk 2014

"A phenomenal Silk”

"Very user-friendly, hands-on barrister with formidable advocacy skills".

Legal 500 and Chambers UK Bar

James practises across a broad range of disputes in litigation, arbitration, adjudication and all methods of alternative dispute resolution. He has particular experience in energy and power-related disputes, and information technology disputes.

Much of his work is international in nature and throughout his career he has advised on disputes in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and across Asia. James has wide experience in advisory, preparatory and advocacy work for international arbitration and other forms of dispute resolution (using ICC Rules and other recognised arbitration rules such as UNCITRAL, LCIA and Stockholm Chamber of Commerce as well as ad hoc arbitration).

His experience of domestic disputes covers a wide range of technical disputes from construction and engineering to energy and power to telecommunications and computer systems and software. James has experience of all major (and many of the lesser used) construction and engineering standard forms of contract.

Prior to and since taking Silk, James is recognised by the legal directories, Chambers and Partners (UK, Global and Asia Pacific) Guides to the Legal Profession and The Legal 500, in the fields of, Construction, International Arbitration, Information Technology and Professional Negligence.


James has experience of both domestic and international disputes regarding oil and gas exploration and exploitation, and regarding power projects (conventional, hydro-electric and other).

Recent case examples include:


  • Advisory and advocacy work in respect of various claims in arbitration under Power Purchase Agreements relating to generation including gas-fired power stations, CHP Plant and Biomass power stations and commercial boilers.
  • Acting on a dispute regarding commercial arrangements for negotiation and obtaining UK Offshore exploration licences in the North Sea 25th round.
  • Advisory and advocacy work relating to various disputes regarding construction of LNG offtake and storage facilities in Kent and South Wales including Ledwood Engineering v Whessoe & Volker Stevin.
  • Advisory and advocacy work regarding claims for employer against offshore contractor arising from attempted installation of experimental offshore tidal generator at North Sea testing site; Aquanos v Tidal Generation Limited.
  • Advisory and advocacy work for US contractor in respect of claims arising from design and installation of evaporators for bioethanol production facility; Simon Carves v Anhydro.
  • Acting on a US $100 million professional negligence claim in UK High Court relating to the design of a power station in the Philippines including two successful results in response to appeals to the UK Court of Appeal; Mirant Asia-Pacific Construction (Hong Kong) Ltd v Ove Arup and Partners Intl Ltd.
  • Advisory work in respect of defects in pipeline coatings for new gas pipeline on Teeside.


  • Acting on an ICC arbitration in Singapore (English law, Singapore procedural law) for Thai manufacturing and power production conglomerate in respect of claims arising on termination of design and build contracts for the construction of a biomass power station in Thailand (at the time of procurement the largest plant in the world), (Thailand).
  • Acting on an LCIA arbitration for Oman oil company regarding disputes with a US drilling services company arising from exploratory land prospects in Oman, (Oman).
  • Acting on an LCIA arbitration for Russian-owned oil company regarding disputes arising from refurbishment and operation of drill ship in respect of offshore wells to be drilled in Gulf of Guinea, (Ghana).
  • Advising on an ICC rules mediation for a US engineering construction company regarding a dispute with the Abu Dhabi state valued at c. US$80million combined power and desalination plant under Abu Dhabi substantive law, (Abu Dhabi).
  • Acting on an ICC arbitration regarding technical and commercial disputes over the construction of a power station for an Indian private power company against US and Indian state engineering and construction companies in respect of claims and counterclaims valued at c. US$60 million under English and Indian law, (India).
  • Acting on an ICC arbitration regarding offshore dredging contracts for an Iranian contractor constructing offshore oil and gas facilities under English law and (in relation to bonds) Iranian law in respect of claims and counterclaims valued at US$2.1million, (India).
  • Acting on an ICC Arbitration regarding onshore drilling contracts for UAE employer in Oman against claims for contract fees including demobilisation fee by US drilling contractor and counterclaiming for costs incurred as a result of poor performance and downtime. Claims and counterclaims valued at c. US$2.5million, (Oman).
  • Acting on an ICC arbitration concerning computer controlled longwall coal mining equipment in Siberia for Russian owners against US/UK equipment manufacturers in respect of claims and counterclaims valued at c US$20 million under English and Russian law, (Russian Federation).


James has carried out preparatory, advisory and advocacy work for numerous large-scale domestic construction and engineering project disputes. Recent examples include:


  • Advisory and advocacy work in arbitrations for SPV contractor/service provider relating to PFI contracts for the £300m refurbishment and extension of general and specialist facilities for NHS Foundation Trust.
  • Advisory and advocacy work in adjudication for NHS Foundation Trust in claims relating to the design and construction of a new cancer care centre procured under the PFI.
  • Advisory and advocacy work in arbitration for PFI contractors in respect of design and construction of three schools under the UK Building Schools for the Future programme.
  • Advisory and advocacy work on a series of eight linked arbitrations on behalf of local authority relating to planned maintenance of a local authority housing which gave rise to three arbitration applications to appeal awards and freezing injunctions to restrain dissipation of assets by contractor.
  • Various advisory work for local authorities and housing associations relating to new build and refurbishment of housing stock including a number of disputes relating to the Thames Gateway redevelopment.
  • Advisory and advocacy work in respect of a number of UK process plants including construction and professional negligence disputes.
  • Numerous disputes in litigation and domestic arbitration relating to construction disputes and professional negligence disputes relating to the design and construction of all forms of domestic and commercial property from high-value residential homes to city office buildings involving building defects, defective fit out, delay and disruption etc. acting for employers, residential occupiers, local authorities and central government, utilities and contractors and sub-contractors to professionals.


  • Acting in DIAC arbitration heard in Dubai regarding disputes in respect of commercial/residential development on Palm Jumeirah. Disputes (claims and counterclaims) valued at in excess of US$80 million, (Dubai).
  • Advising and acting on an ICC arbitration regarding the geotechnical design of underground LPG storage caverns under New South Wales substantive and procedural law, (Australia).
  • Advising and acting on an ICC arbitration regarding dredging and land reclamation for an Indonesian employer under Indonesian substantive and procedural law in claims valued at US$40 million, (Indonesia).
  • Advising and acting on an arbitration application in UK Commercial Court, Court of Appeal and House of Lords, (Lesotho) Lesotho Highlands Development Authority v Impregilo.
  • Advising and acting on an LCIA arbitration concerning the manufacture and supply of process equipment and a plant for the manufacture of polypropylene and derived products in Russia under Russian substantive law for US-based, Russian controlled corporation in respect of claims and counterclaims valued at c. US$150 million, (Russian Federation).
  • Advising and acting on a UNCITRAL rules arbitration concerning a contract to build and operate a process plant and supply products to the Thai subsidiary of a Swiss food company for a Thai contractor under Thai substantive law in claims valued at c.US$300million, (Thailand).
  • Arbitration relating to marine structures in Guernsey in claims valued at c£22million in respect of marine works. Project had considerable political notoriety in Guernsey and was particularly sensitive during parliamentary elections, (Guernsey).


James has advised contractors on disputes arising from rail projects and infrastructures. Cases include:


  • Acting on a series of eight linked ICC arbitrations relating to contracts to provide underground railway control, security and communications equipment relating to sub-contracts and sub-sub-contracts related to UK PFI/PPP railway refurbishment and renewal contracts for UK telecommunications and electronic control specialist contractor in claims and counterclaims valued at c £10million.
  • Acting on an ICC arbitration relating to railway network communications system linking trains, control centres and stations, relating to technical radio and communications system design for railway employer in linked arbitrations between employer/contractor and contractor/sub-contractors in respect of claims to declarations as to meaning and effect of terms under PFI contract and related sub-contracts.


  • Acting on an ad hoc arbitration relating to the construction of highway from Muscat into interior on behalf of Government of Oman. Contract and arbitration governed by Oman law, (Oman).
  • Leading junior counsel advising and preparation for arbitration of multi-billion dollar disputes relating to the design and construction of the new Dubai metro system, (Dubai).
  • Advisory work relating to disputes arising in respect of construction of new light railway system.


James’ cases include:


  • Advising defence contractor with respect to disputes with sub-contractor relating to design and construction of next generation naval vessels.


  • Advising European defence contractor in respect of potential international arbitration proceedings arising from design and supply of defence related ship-based systems for naval vessels of South-Asian navy.


James has excellent experience in the IT and Telecommunications’ field acting for suppliers, manufacturers, contractors and users, including central and local government, in relation to telecommunication systems and computer software and hardware systems. Examples of his recent work include:

  • Acting in UK TCC proceedings for UK ERP software supplier in claims arising from termination of a contract to implement supply chain management software for use in retail fresh produce business, MM(UK) v Linkfresh Software.
  • Acting in UK TCC proceedings for Thai oil and gas major in claims against US ERP software supplier relating to the design and development of a global commodities trading and charter party management system, Triple Point Software v PTT.
  • Acting in UK Commercial Court proceedings for major US-based global IT systems and software supplier in respect of commercial claims made by specialist software house and counterclaims relating to international IP protection for network internet security software solution, Grupo S21 Sec Gestion SA v Internet Security Systems.
  • Acting in UK Commercial Court proceedings for US/UK software supplier in respect of commercial claims made by regional sales agent in respect of commercial disputes relating to onward sales to African government, Cosin SA v Autonomy Systems.
  • Acting on behalf of UK-based subsidiary of a major global software and systems contractor in respect of claims valued at c£700m relating to design, supply, integration and operation of IT system procured under the PFI forming part of new nationwide IT solution for UK government claimed to be the largest global civilian ICT software project attempted. Claims against the UK government and against the sub-contracted software supplier.
  • Advisory and advocacy work for UK IT services provider in respect of claims on termination of service contracts procured under the PFI for the provision of integration software and services in respect of UK criminal justice services and functions.
  • Advisory work for UK IT services provider in respect of disputes arising under contracts procured under the PFI for the provision of monitoring services.
  • Acting for Scandinavian financial services software supplier regarding commercial claims arising from supply of software to UK derivates trading house.
  • Acting in UK High Court proceedings for a UK based global financial information and enterprise systems supplier in respect of claim by software house relating to software for live financial data acquisition, management and manipulation, RCP Consultants v Reuters.
  • Acting in an LCIA arbitration concerning the design and implementation of a bespoke airline ticketing and hotel booking system for a global travel agent including web-based functionality for a US software house and Danish subsidiary under English and Danish law.
  • Acting for Unisys in respect of claims relating to a UK private finance initiative project for the development and installation of national system for UK Courts Service, Unisys Ltd v Fujitsu Services Ltd.
  • Representing Compass, a specialist IT benchmarking consultancy, in Part 20 claim by IBM for breach of contract and professional negligence in benchmarking exercises of leading to the termination of Cable & Wireless contract with IBM for outsourced IT services, Cable & Wireless PLC v IBM UK Ltd and IBM UK Ltd v Compass America Inc & Compass Management Consulting Ltd.
  • Acting for LIFFE trading house regarding claim against software designer relating to fitness for purpose of LIFFE trading software, Trafalgar Financial Futures Ltd v Easyscreen Ltd.


University and College Scholar and Prizewinner at University of Cambridge and University of Oxford

1993–1994: BCL Oxon (1st Class) Brasenose College, Oxford

1989–1992: MA Cantab, BA (Hons) (1st Class) Magdalene College, Cambridge


James is a contributing editor to Hudson’s Building and Engineering Contracts (12th and 13th Eds)

James was editor of Building Law Reports from 1998 -2000 and from 2005 – 2015

He was editor of Technology and Construction Reports from 2000-2002


“One of the first QCs that we would reach out to.” “He sets out clear objectives and works with you to achieve them” “His advocacy stands out as always on point.” “Practical, bright, good to deal with and knows his stuff.”

International Arbitration – The English Bar, Chambers Asia-Pacific 2020


“A first-class advocate with an exceptional attention to detail and appetite for work. He is extremely responsive, a pleasure to work with and very quick to gain the confidence of clients, judges and tribunals alike.”

“A dedicated and skilled QC with an exceptional knowledge of the law. His strength is his ability to summarise complicated matters and concepts to find practical solutions.”

Construction, Chambers UK Bar 2020


“Very bright and eloquent.”

International Arbitration, Chambers UK Bar 2020


“Bright, hands-on and good on his feet.”

Information Technology, Chambers UK Bar 2020


“Lay clients do not understand how he does it – he has a grasp of all the material and can talk knowledgeably about oil and gas in the boardroom.”

Construction, Energy & Infrastructure The Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2020


“A dedicated and impressive silk.”

Construction, The Legal 500 2020


“Very user-friendly, calm and incredibly hardworking; he conveys an impressive sense of being on top of everything.”

Energy, The Legal 500 2020


“He always provides level-headed, pragmatic and commercial legal advice.”

IT and Telecoms, The Legal 500 2020


“Phenomenally clever and strategically astute.”

International Arbitration, The Legal 500 2020


“He is experienced in energy, engineering and technology disputes.”

Professional Negligence, The Legal 500 2020


“His ability to come up with a consistent strategy was very good – he made the case focused and simple and really delivered on that.” “Phenomenally hard-working, really easy to use, responsive, flexible and someone who goes above and beyond.”

Construction, Chambers UK Bar 2019


“Very user-friendly and easy to work with.” “Phenomenally hard-working.”

International Arbitration, Chambers UK Bar 2019


“Has a very good eye for detail and is very good at wading through a large number of conflicting documents and identifying a way through them.” “A straight-down-the-line, general-purpose silk who gets on with the job without indulging in histrionics. He always turns in a good, solid performance.”

Information Technology, Chambers UK Bar 2019


“A first-class thinker and brilliant strategist who is quickly on top of the details, extremely user-friendly and particularly adept in complex and expert-heavy international disputes,”

“He has an unusually sensitive approach to dealing with Asian clients which sets him apart.”

International Arbitration, Chambers Asia-Pacific 2019


“Thorough, user friendly, good with clients and very commercial.”

Construction, The Legal 500 2019


“Bright, hands on and good on his feet.”

International Arbitration, The Legal 500 2019


“He is experienced across engineering, energy and technology disputes.”

Professional Negligence, The Legal 500 2019


“Instructed in transport infrastructure and energy-related construction disputes.”

Construction, The Legal 500 Asia-Pacific 2019


“Instructed in Singapore energy arbitrations.”

Energy, The Legal 500 Asia-Pacific 2019


“Has a highly incisive mind and great attention to detail. He is very down-to-earth with clients.” “Excellent technically and has a pragmatic, hands-on approach.”

Construction, Chambers UK Bar 2018


“Excellent technically and has a pragmatic hands-on approach.” “A phenomenal silk.”

Information Technology, Chambers UK Bar 2018


“A real details man. Very easy to work with, very approachable and very clever.” “Technically excellent and also pragmatic, with a hands-on approach.”

International Arbitration, Chambers UK Bar 2018


“Good strategic vision” “Very helpful, very well-connected knowledge of the region” “I hold him in high regard and wouldn’t hesitate to use him again”

International Arbitration, Chambers Asia-Pacific and Chambers Global 2018


“Excellent to work with, extremely responsive and always on top of the details.”

Construction, The Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2018


“He is quick to gain the confidence of clients and tribunals alike.”

Energy, The Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2018


The above are a selection of recent client endorsements from the leading legal directories, both UK and internationally. For a complete list of endorsements, please contact the practice management team at Atkin Chambers.