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James Howells QC Barrister Atkin Chambers

James Howells QC


Silk 2014

“A phenomenal Silk”

“A master of his art, supremely prepared at all times, quick to gain the judge or tribunal’s trust and even quicker to unpick a witness in cross-examination.”


Legal 500 and Chambers UK Bar

James’ practice covers a wide range of technical disputes from construction and engineering, energy and power, shipbuilding and offshore structures, and commercial disputes to telecommunications and IT disputes. James has wide experience of domestic and equivalent international PFI/PPP and outsourcing contracting, acting for contractors and private and public employers.

Much of James’ 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 international arbitration (ad hoc as well as major institutional international rules). James represented PTT, the Thai government-owned oil major, before the UK Supreme Court in Triple Point Technology, Inc v PTT Public Company Ltd [2021] UKSC 29, a case that has been the subject of considerable interest in the UK and worldwide.

Prior to and since taking Silk, James has been consistently recognised by the legal directories, including the 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 for his client focus and approachability, and for his advocacy.

ENERGY, NATURAL RESOURCES AND UTILITIES

James has experience of both domestic and international disputes regarding oil and gas exploration and exploitation, and regarding power projects (conventional, nuclear and renewable).

Recent case examples include:

DOMESTIC

  • 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.
  • Instructed for Scandinavian offshore driller in delay and termination case in LMAA arbitration in London re: a dynamically positioned harsh environment semi-submersible drilling unit ordered from Korean yard. The reported value at the time of the order was $727 million.  Matter value – c.$400 million in pre-delivery instalments, plus accrued interest and claims for compensation re: costs of project.
  • Acting for renewable energy company in relation to a dispute arising out of the termination of a lease agreement relating to a development of a biomass power plant in the north of England.
  • Acting for the UK developer/operator of a biomass plant in a dispute relating to Energy Act liabilities for defects in grid cabling affecting commissioning and back-energising of plant.

INTERNATIONAL

  • Acting for Singapore headquartered energy firm in respect of claims for breach of contract against major European oil company in respect of failing to drill committed oil and gas exploration wells in the Philippines under a farm out agreement for ultra-deep water exploratory gas drilling (GAR reported) Mitra v Total. (Philippines)
  • Acting for LNG purchaser in anti-suit injunction proceedings in Commercial Court in London relating to claims c US$14m disputed charges for the delivery of LNG in Pakistan and in ensuing LCIA arbitration. (Pakistan)
  • Co-Counsel with one of India’s leading advocates acting on quantum stage arbitration in hearings in Singapore and Paris in respect of shareholder claims relating to operation of petrochemical plant in India and management of expansion projects. (India)
  • Acting for consortium re: dispute with Thai-based joint venture re: the design and construction of an energy-from-waste plant and wrongful termination by the employer following injunction proceedings in Administrative Court of Thailand by environmental groups to prevent operation of plant. Claims and counterclaims in arbitration in Singapore in relation to termination. (Thailand)
  • Acting for a South-East Asian renewables developer active in Thailand, India and S E Asia in wind farm development in claims for termination loss on repudiation of a manufacturing/supply reservation agreement for onshore wind turbines. Issues relating to Vietnamese development licences and PPAs. Contracts under English law with arbitration in Singapore. (Vietnam)
  • Advising European/African consortium re: bond calls in respect of alleged delay claims and liquidated damages claims in relation to design and construction of a 200kn gas pipeline in North Africa forming part of a major gas development project. Bonds under UK law, advising and providing QC opinion for use in European courts on English law on injunctive powers to restrain encashment of on-demand bond. (Tunisia)
  • Acting for South-East Asian Government Ministry of Energy in two arbitrations commenced by oil majors challenging new regulations on decommissioning costs.
  • Advising Singapore headquartered energy firm on claims arising from breach of a sale and purchase agreement (SPA) for a participating interest in offshore Vietnam gas block from Japanese oil major. (Vietnam)
  • Acting on a dispute relating to the termination of design and construction contracts for what was at the time the world’s largest biomass power plant, located in South-East Asia. ICC arbitration seated in Singapore. (Thailand)
  • 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 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)
  • 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)

CONSTRUCTION, ENGINEERING AND INFRASTRUCTURE

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

DOMESTIC

  • Acting for airport operator against contractor claiming in respect of disputed preliminaries and/or thickening in respect of the NEC3 contract for the civils works for the new aircraft hangar at major international airport (UK) and in related claims between contractor and sub-contractor in adjudication and enforcement proceedings, Prater Ltd v John Sisk [2021] EWHC 1113 (TCC).
  • Acting for project company in relation to the construction of major central London redevelopment project comprising a new build, mixed-use development of apartments, retail and commercial units. Dispute related to design and construction of the external walling and cladding works, including semi-external balconies with concerns arising re: effective fire stopping.
  • Acting for fire consultancy in claims by aerospace company (BAE) against multiple defendants in Birmingham TCC in respect of damage to buildings and MOD Typhoon fighter jet as a result of release of fire suppression foam in test facility. Claims in contract and negligence against designers and installers/commissioners of system. Claims currently valued in excess of £7m. BAE v Edward Dewhurst & others
  • Acting for developer in dispute relating to design and construction of new London Premier League football club stadium.
  • Acting for Premier League Football club in disputes relating to refurbishment and development of new stand and associated hotel, apartments and hospitality/events spaces at London ground.
  • Acting for brick cladding contractor in dispute relating to alleged defective design and construction of feature brickwork facades of three buildings at a UK university.
  • Post-Grenfell cladding dispute acting for developer in claims by hotel chain (intended to be test case) against developer, contractor and designer in respect of specification and design of external cladding and the alleged defects in required fire resistance of cladding. Premier Inn v AP14 and others
  • Acting for UK Borough Council in respect of disputes arising in respect of the design and construction of the Mersey Gateway bridge crossing. Initial claims by joint venture relating to alleged entitlements to extension of time and loss and expense.
  • Acting in claims against architect in respect of design and inspection/supervision of construction of passive fire stopping in a new UK hospital.
  • Acting for NHS Trust relating to the design and construction of the new major city hospital with recent claims relating to ultra clean brain surgery and paediatric operating theatres.
  • Acting for Amey Birmingham Highways in claims by Birmingham City Council in respect of long-running dispute over c£300m PFI contract for refurbishment and maintenance of roads in Birmingham. One of the UK’s largest PFI contracts.
  • Acting for Aggregate Industries in claims by Amey to declarations to prevent ongoing adjudications of payment disputes relating to a contract valued at c.£200m for works relating to the maintenance and refurbishment of roads in Sheffield. Amey LG Ltd v Aggregate Industries UK Ltd [2019] EWHC 3488 (TCC)
  • Acting for Austrian specialist cladding design and build contractor in claims currently in two related actions in the TCC relating to the iconic Beetham Tower, Manchester (Manchester’s tallest building). Claims from owner of Hilton Hotel for loss of business due to alleged safety issues arising from failed fenestration and cladding, and claims from landlord/building owner for rectification costs. Blue Manchester v BUG Alu-Technic & others
  • Acting for property management company in respect of a dispute arising from a PFI contract relating to the construction and operation of custodial centres in the south of England.
  • Acting in relation to the new set for ITV’s flagship television programme Coronation Street re: defective steelwork resulting in large parts of the newly constructed set having to be demolished and rebuilt leading to increased construction costs and delay.
  • Acting for global consultancy, and construction company and its professional indemnity insurers in relation to a dispute regarding the construction and refurbishment of an 11-storey data centre in London.

INTERNATIONAL

  • Acting for contractor in DIFC Arbitration (DIFC-LCIA arbitration, DIFC law) in respect of the major project to provide pedestrian mall, leisure facilities and Mosque in central Dubai site. Claims and counterclaims exceeding AED250million relating to delays to completion, liquidated damages and claims to additional works and variations. (Dubai)
  • Acting for European joint venture in DIAC arbitration in Dubai in respect of claims arising in relation to the design and construction of shiplifts in Middle Eastern city port area. Claims valued at c US$30 million arising after the insolvency of the developer. (Dubai)
  • Acting for Dubai government owned developer in ad hoc arbitration in respect of claims relating to infrastructure and roads construction in respect of development of new maritime structures and area. Claims and counterclaims exceeding AED600million. (Dubai)
  • Acting for major Indian contractor in arbitration seated in the Middle East relating to claims in respect of the specialist cladding and fenestration for the new passenger terminal and related buildings at major international airport. (Oman)

Other cases include:

  • Acting for the design and construction joint ventures in claims relating to design of airport pavements at major South-East Asian hub airport in arbitrations in Bangkok. Claims valued at c.US$70Million.
  • Acting in dispute in relation to a power and water purchase agreement to finance, develop, construct, operate and maintain a power and water development facility in the Middle East. (Abu Dhabi)
  • Acting on US$50m claims for damages on termination of exclusive supply agreement for food product canning. UNCITRAL arbitration (Thai law).
  • Advising and acting on an arbitration application in UK Commercial Court, Court of Appeal and House of Lords. House of Lords Judgment remains a leading authority on meaning of UK Arbitration Act 1996, (Lesotho) Lesotho Highlands Development Authority v Impregilo. [2006] 1 AC 221.
  • Acting for UK supplier of machinery for the can-making industry in respect of a dispute arising from a contract for the design, installation and commissioning of plant for can production in Austria.
  • 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 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)

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS

James has wide 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 for PTT (Thai oil and petrochemicals major) in claims and counterclaims relating to the termination of a contract to design and an implement integrated commodities trading and vessel charter party management system across Asia and Gulf businesses. Represented PTT at first instance and through each appeal including successful hearing before the Supreme Court in 2020 whose outcome was the subject of considerable interest and speculation in the wider construction, IT and ship-building industries, in particular regarding the proper interpretation and application of liquidated damages clauses where a contract is terminated after works are delayed but before they are completed and in respect of limitation clauses. Triple Point Technology, Inc (respondent) v PTT Public Company Ltd (appellant) [2021] UKSC 29.
  • Leading counsel in TCC claims for supplier of electronic products in claims (c £70m) by BT alleging defective design and supply of network components said to have caused widespread faulting on ADSL broadband services. British Telecommunications v Tii Technologies.
  • Advising specialist IT design/development house regarding disputes arising as a result of allegations of defects in specialist pharmaceutical testing software used for regulatory approvals of cancer drug.
  • Advising data communications company in respect of a series of contractual disputes with electricity companies and multinational telecommunications company regarding lifecycle technology issues in respect of second-generation Smart Electricity Meters.
  • Advising European multinational information technology company in a dispute with major media and telecoms group in relation to the transformation of the latter’s European accounts systems with a new common end-to-end solution across several markets in replacement of existing country-specific legacy ERP systems.
  • Acting for major IT outsourcing group in relation to delays to a software system for adult and social care in a London Borough. Complex technical issues relating to design and implementation of system to meet statutory requirements for social care and child protection.
  • Acting in LCIA arbitration in claims valued at c $800m for termination payments on termination of contract to design, build and operate the mobile and online banking system for implementation in a West African state bank.
  • Leading counsel in TCC claim in respect of a long-term agreement for the provision of equipment, telecoms and internet services, and other support services to one of the world’s largest temping services provider and recruitment consultants.
  • Joint leading counsel for 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.
  • Acting for major outsourcing group in respect of claims relating to a project to replace electronic tagging and monitoring tagging service for criminal justice and anti-terrorism services.
  • Acting on claims relating to the termination of a consultancy contract for the development and implementation of an ERP system for a supplier to major UK, US and Canadian supermarket chains.

Other cases 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 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 in UK Commercial 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 in TCC 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 in Commercial Court regarding claim against software designer relating to fitness for purpose of LIFFE trading software, Trafalgar Financial Futures Ltd v Easyscreen Ltd.

TRANSPORT

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

DOMESTIC

  • 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.

INTERNATIONAL

  • 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.

SHIPBUILDING

James’ cases include:

DOMESTIC

  • Acting in TCC claims in respect of disputes relating to delays in completion and sail away for the refurbishment of a semi-submersible drilling rig arising from structural design errors relating to new accommodation quarters and heli deck. Stena Drilling –v- Hertel Services Ltd
  • Acting for UK defence contractor with respect to disputes with sub-contractor relating to design and construction of next generation UK naval vessels.

INTERNATIONAL

  • Instructed for Scandinavian offshore driller in delay and termination case in LMAA arbitration in London re: a dynamically positioned harsh environment semi-submersible drilling unit ordered from Korean yard. The reported value at the time of the order was $727 million.  Matter value – c.$400 million in pre-delivery instalments, plus accrued interest and claims for compensation re: costs of project.
  • 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 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.

QUALIFICATIONS AND AWARDS

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

LEGAL TEXTS

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

RECENT RECOMMENDATIONS

“He manages client expectations very well by his objective approach, honesty and transparency.”

Construction, Energy and Infrastructure, The Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2022

 

“A highly intelligent and hard-working QC who is always a pleasure to deal with. His legal and strategic analysis is excellent.”

Construction, The Legal 500 2022

 

“James is an excellent barrister. In very complex cases, James has a great ability to quickly identify and clearly explain the key issues and options. James really understands his client. James is a pleasure to work with.”

IT and Telecoms, The Legal 500 2022

 

He is a really nice person to work with, very easy to get on with and good at managing a large case.”

Information Technology, Chambers UK Bar 2022

 

“He is extremely knowledgeable in the energy space – a first-class legal mind. He is also incredibly thorough and leaves no stone unturned.”

Energy & Natural Resources, Chambers UK Bar 2022

 

““A master of his art, supremely prepared at all times, quick to gain the judge or tribunal’s trust and even quicker to unpick a witness in cross-examination.”

Energy, The Legal 500 2022

 

He grasps the matters very quickly and he is very commercial and very nice to work with.”

International Arbitration, Chambers UK Bar 2022

 

“Always makes time for clients, his approachability is a real strength.”

Construction, Energy & Infrastructure, The Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2022

 

“He is first-class. His style and approach is a great fit as a supplier to our business. James has the ability to spot issues previously unidentified. He is our “go-to” barrister for issues critical to the business. His advice is thorough and well communicated.”

IT and Telecoms, The Legal 500 2021

 

“James has excellent analytical skills and is a compelling advocate. We would have no hesitation in recommending him for any complex construction cases.”

Construction, The Legal 500 2021

 

“He is incredibly hardworking, very bright and exceptionally approachable with a strong eye for detail.”

Energy, The Legal 500 2021

 

“Always makes time for clients, his approachability is a real strength.”

Construction, Energy and Infrastructure, The Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2021

 

“Very clever and extremely able” a “very approachable” colleague who gives “direct answers.”

International Arbitration – The English Bar, Chambers Asia-Pacific 2021

 

“He has excellent analytical skills and is a compelling advocate.”

Construction, Chambers & Partners UK Bar 2021

 

“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

 

“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

 

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

Energy, The Legal 500 2020

 

“Phenomenally clever and strategically astute.”

International Arbitration, The Legal 500 2020

 

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.