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John Bethell

John has a broad practice across Chambers’ areas of expertise, with particular strengths in commercial disputes and domestic public law. He regularly appears in commercial proceedings in the High Court and in arbitration and advises both private clients and government departments. Recent instructions have included:

  • Appearing, as junior to Duncan Matthews QC, in a three week UNCITRAL arbitration of a $300m+ drilling services contract dispute.
  • Providing wide-ranging legal advice to the Department for Transport in relation to what is now the Space Industry Bill.
  • Drafting an urgent challenge to an INTERPOL Red Notice, issued by a South American government in the course of a commercial dispute with the subject of the Notice (with Monica Feria-Tinta).
  • Since mid-2016, John has been instructed by HM Government in the ongoing Kenya Emergency Group Litigation (Kimathi & Others v Foreign and Commonwealth Office) arising from the Mau Mau insurgency of the 1950s.

Before coming to the Bar, John spent six years as an army officer with the Welsh Guards. He completed two operational tours in Afghanistan, and served as a Military Adviser at the British High Commission in Pakistan. He retains a particular interest in defence, security and international affairs.

John read History at the University of Cambridge, gained a Masters in War Studies at King’s College London and returned to Cambridge to complete a PhD in History.

John’s previous career and recent practice mean that he is comfortable with a wide range of cases, including those that raise public or European Union law issues, in a commercial context.  


Commercial Disputes

John has experience of a wide range of commercial matters and has appeared in the Commercial Court and the County Court, as well as arbitral proceedings. Recent instructions have included:

Appearing, as junior to Duncan Matthews QC, in a three week UNCITRAL arbitration of a $300m+ drilling services contract dispute.

Drafting submissions in a multi-million dollar dispute between a provider of foreign language testing services and one of its regional distributers.

Appearing unled in the Companies Court in relation to winding-up petitions. 

Assisting Tim Hill QC with drafting advice for a major UK transport operator, in relation to a dispute with its advertising supplier.

Assisting with a large-scale document review in a high-profile banking case.

During pupillage, John gained experience of commercial litigation in a range of practice areas. Typical work included:

Assisting leading counsel to prepare advice on obtaining a freezing order against one of two jointly and severally liable two co-defendants in a pending arbitration. 

Assisting junior counsel drafting advice for a government department on possible claims against the supplier of equipment that had been accepted into service and placed in long-term storage before defects were identified.

OMV Petrom SA v Glencore International AG [2015] EWHC 666 (Comm) As a pupil, John assisted Fionn Pilbrow and Richard Southern QC with preparing appeal submissions on the "additional amount" available to a claimant who beats a Part 36 Offer, following the Jackson Report.

EU and Competition

European Union law, particularly competition law, has featured prominently in many of the cases that John has worked on since pupillage, including:

Advising clients on potential follow-on cartel damages claims arising from the Commission Decision in Case AT.39824 Trucks (with Sara Masters QC).

Lupin v European Commission (Case T-680/14), a case arising from the Commission's finding of a breach of Article 101(1) when a manufacturer of generic pharmaceuticals made a settlement agreement with a patent holder.

Recall Support Services Limited & Ors v Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport [2014] EWCA Civ 1370, a Francovich damages appeal, arising from the policies adopted by the UK Government, on public security grounds, towards GSM Gateway devices,

Gayle-Childs v HM Treasury a complex claim against the UK Government by the purported assignee of an offshore company subject to European Union sanctions. 

Constitutional, Public & Human Rights

John has a keen interest in human rights and rule of law issues and is developing a strong public law practice. He is registered on the Government Legal Department’s Junior Junior Scheme. John's recent instructions have included:

Undertaking reviews of certain UK legislation in light of ‘Brexit’, for a government department.

Wide ranging work on the Kenya Emergency Group Litigation (Kimathi & Others v Foreign and Commonwealth Office), in and out of court, including legal research, reviewing documentary evidence and assisting senior counsel with drafting submissions.

As junior to Julie Anderson, drafting submissions for the Court of Appeal in a challenge to a decision of the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) concerning the UK Government’s Restricted Leave Policy as applied to persons implicated in crimes against humanity: TB (Pakistan) v Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Advising the Department for Transport on both international and domestic aspects of planned legislation for commercial space activity in the Space Industry Bill (formerly the Spaceflight Bill). 

Assisting the Ministry of Justice with a review of the impact of human rights legislation on government litigation.

Assisting with a large-scale review of historic documents relating to the Kenyan Emergency Group Litigation (Kimathi & Others v The Foreign & Commonwealth Office).

John gained extensive experience of public law issues during pupillage, where he worked on cases including:

R (Sisangia) v Director of Legal Aid Casework [2014] EWHC 3706 (Admin), an application for judicial review of a decision to refuse legal aid for a false imprisonment claim against the Metropolitan Police. The case turned upon the meaning of the phrase “abuse of position or powers” in Schedule 1 to LASPO 2012.

R (Barda) v Mayor of London [2015] EWHC 3584 (Admin), a judicial review of the Mayor’s restrictions on a demonstration in Parliament Square by the Occupy movement. The claimant alleged a breach of his rights under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, in addition to common law illegality, by the fencing of Parliament Square Gardens.

R (British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors & Ors) v Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills [2015] EWHC 1723 (Admin), a judicial review of the UK Government’s decision to create a copyright exception for private copying of music, under the European Union Copyright Directive. 

International Arbitration

John was recently instructed as junior to Duncan Matthews QC in a UNCITRAL arbitration of a $300m+ drilling services contract dispute between two state-owned oil companies. John drafted skeleton arguments and other submissions and assisted with the cross-examination of factual and expert witnesses.

John recently drafted a defence and counterclaim in a high-value international arbitration between an educational services provider and one of its exclusive distributors.

John assisted with drafting submissions in an appeal under s.69 of the Arbitration Act 1996. The appeal considered the effect of a contractual time bar provision and how sections 14(3) and 55 of the Sale of Goods Act 1979 would apply to a shipbuilding contract in which the vessel was constructed for use in a standardised trade.

John assisted with drafting submissions in an appeal under s.68 of the Arbitration Act 1996. The appeal considered whether arbitrators had erred when they identified in their award an additional argument that might have been made by one of the parties but did not invite further submissions on the point.

As a pupil, John assisted counsel in preparing for an LCIA arbitration on the enforceability of a shareholding agreement for a joint venture business. The agreement was said to contain provisions that were illegal in the foreign place of performance in the Middle East. 

Private International Law

John recently assisted Stephen Atherton QC in drafting advice on the relevance of foreign insolvency law to an English law contractual dispute when one party to the contract had become bankrupt abroad.

As a pupil, John assisted in drafting written observations to the CJEU on the application of Articles 9(3) and 28 of the Rome I Regulation to employment contracts of EU citizens when they are working for one member state's government, in the territory of another member state.

As a pupil, John assisted in advising a high-net-worth individual on whether he could be validly served with foreign proceedings in England and whether the English courts would have jurisdiction to determine the matter. 

Banking and Financial Services

As a pupil, John worked on a number of cases in the banking and financial services sector.

Typical work included: drafting advice for a major bank on its liability to indemnify a financial services company for setting anti-competitive multilateral interchange fees; and assisting in drafting advice for a building society on the possibility of recovering from a firm of surveyors the costs of terminating interest rate swap agreements on over-valued properties.

Energy and Natural Resources

As a pupil and in practice, John has worked on several cases relating to the energy and natural resources sector, both in court proceedings and in arbitration.

Typical work has included assisting in drafting advice for a petroleum company on a dispute over the warranties and disclosure obligations contained in a Farm-In Agreement.

Insurance & Reinsurance

As a pupil, John assisted in drafting advice and submissions for a liquidator on the possibility of asserting claims against an insurer with whom the insolvent company had previously settled on disadvantageous terms.


Since joining Chambers, John has gained experience of a range of ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ shipping matters, both led and unled. Recent instructions have included:

Advising ship owners on whether a loading berth should be considered ‘congested’ and the extent of charterers’ obligations to berth in a congested port.

Appearing, as junior to Julian Kenny QC, in commercial court proceedings for delivery up of cargo in a dispute between owners, charterers and sub-charterers over unpaid hire and expenses.

Appearing, as junior to David Lewis QC, in an LMAA arbitration arising from shipowners’ substitution of bulk carriers during the course of a time charterparty.

During his third six, John has assisted senior members of chambers in a range of ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ shipping matters, including:

Assisting Michael Coburn QC in obtaining an order for sale of property and for service of proceedings out of the jurisdiction when a consignee refused to accept delivery of a cargo of coal for over eight months.

Assisting Michael Collett QC in drafting advice for charterers on the prospects of recovering the legal costs owed to shipowners, as damages from their sub-charterers, in concurrent arbitrations arising from an unsafe port nomination. 

Education and Career: 

BA (Hons) (I) History: Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, 1999-2002

MA (Distinction) War Studies: King's College London, 2002-2003

PhD History: Peterhouse, University of Cambridge, 2003-2006

GDL (Distinction): BPP London, 2012-2013

BPTC (Very Competent): BPP London, 2013-2014

Pupillage: Brick Court Chambers, 2014-2015



Queen Mother Scholar, Middle Temple: 2013

Domestic Research Scholar, University of Cambridge: 2003-2006

Foundress Scholar, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge: 2002

Appointments and Society Memberships: 

GLD Junior Junior Scheme