Robert Thomas QC

Called: 1992 Silk: 2011

Practice Overview

Robert's practice has moved from strength to strength since taking silk in 2011. He retains a strong presence in the traditional areas of his practice and has recently complemented this with substantial experience in commercial fraud and related relief. He is ranked as a Leading Silk in the latest editions of both directories, and has been praised in previous editions for having a "fantastically effective and intellectual style", for "consistently deliver[ing] a first-class service" and for his ability to handle "difficult cases on a tight timetable". He is a registered practitioner in the DIFC and is also receiving an increasing number of appointments as an arbitrator.

  • What the directories sayView More

    • "...Very quick, friendly and an excellent communicator."... "Very smart and someone who gets fully involved in the case..."

      (Chambers UK, 2018)
    • "...He has a great mastery shipping law..."

      (Legal 500, 2017)
    • "...frequently commended for his 'intellectual firepower'..." and descibed as "a class act, very assured and hard-working, accessible and a joy to work with".  "If there is a novel or difficult application where we need to persuade a judge, he is very good at that"

      (Chambers UK, 2017)
    • "...Very calm, thorough and focused..."

      (Legal 500, 2016)
    • "Particularly highly regarded for his dry shipping and commodities expertise... He is very accessible and user-friendly"

      (Chambers UK, 2015)
    • User friendly, energetic, great with clients and an excellent advocate"

      (The Legal 500, 2015)
    • "...superb at cross-examination..."

      (The Legal 500, 2014)
    • "...a very effective advocate with a quiet but firm style..."

      (Chambers UK, 2013)
  • Shipping & Maritime K View More

    Dry Shipping

    'Leading Silk' (The Legal 500, 2016)

    'Leading Silk' (Chambers UK, 2017)

    Robert has a busy and broad practice in this area, taking in all aspects of dry shipping and commodities, and recently led a team in one of the Lawyer Magazine's "10 longest cases of 2016".  His present caseload is wide and varied and includes advising numerous Owners in different jurisdiction in relation to the Hanjin insolvency (following similar involvement in the OW Bunkers liquidation).

    As well as numerous arbitrations and unreported cases, the following is a selection of publicly available decisions in which Robert has appeared both in the High Court and Court of Appeal:

    In Kyokuyo Co Ltd v AP Moller - Maersk A/S (t/a Maersk Line) [2017] EWHC 654 (Comm), Robert acted for successful cargo interests in the first English case to consider package limitation for containerised cargoes under the Hague-Visby Rules. 

    Following on from hearings before the Court of Appeal (see below), in Kairos Shipping Ltd v Enka & Co LLC [2016] EWHC 2412 (Admlty), Robert led a team in a 7 week trial in the Admiralty Court. This was the first attempt before an English Court to break limits under the 1976 Limitation Convention. The Court considered seminal issues in relation to the correct legal test to apply in such cases as well as voluminous factual and expert evidence.  The Lawyer Magazine has identified this case as one of its "10 longest cases of 2016".

    In Superior Pescadores [2016] EWCA Civ 101, Robert represented cargo interests before the Court of Appeal which determined important issues of construction relating to the Clause Paramount and the correct time for conversion of gold value under the Hague Rules.

    Rob also advised in respect of the appeal recently decided by the Court of Appeal in Volcafe v CSAV [2016] EWCA Civ 1103 (being unable to appear due to his involvement in Kairos Shipping).

    In The Africa Reefer [2015] EWHC 1950, Robert represented cargo interests in an application under section 12 of the Arbitration Act 1996 for an extension of time for commencing arbitration.

    In The Sea Miror [2015] EWHC 1747, Flaux J considered the meaning of the words "at the expenses and risk of Shippers/Charterers" in the standard form Synacomex 90 voyage charter.

    The Superior Pescadores [2014] 1 Ll Rep 586 addressed important issues as to the construction of a Clause Paramount which have wide-ranging implication. The matter is on its way to the Court of Appeal.

    In a decision of profound practical significance, in Kairos Shipping Ltd v Enka & Co LLC [2013] 2 Ll Rep 596, Robert persuaded the Court of Appeal that it was both permissible and appropriate to constitute a Limitation Fund by way of guarantee or Club Letter of Undertaking, contrary to the prevailing views expressed in leading textbooks.  Robert also has a wealth of experience in relation to Limitation Actions, having been involved in such proceedings in relation to the following vessels (amongst others): The Napoli, The MOL Comfort (Japan), Hanjin Pennsylvania and The Sea Empress.

    In Moondance II [2013] 1 Ll Rep 269 represented charterers in its successful defence against claims of misrepresentation and subsequently argued successfully for security for costs in owners’ section 68 application.

    • In Breffka & Hehnke Gmbh & others v Navire Shipping & others [2013] 1 Ll Rep 401, Robert successfully represented cargo interests in a case based on Owners' fraudulent misrepresentation(s) as to the condition of the cargo upon shipment. The Judgment also provides a welcome clarification of the nature and effect of the so-called Retla clause in relation to steel cargoes.
    • In The Owners of the Ship “Theresa Libra” v The Owners of the ship MSC “Pamela” [2013] 2 Ll Rep 597 Robert represented owners in relation to a dispute as to the true construction of a settlement agreement and its inter-relation with section 190 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.
    • Antonio Gramsci Shipping Corp v Recoletos Ltd [2012] 2 Ll Rep 365: Robert represented and argued the case on behalf of Claimants in a re-run of the jurisdictional dispute reported at [2011] 1 Ll Rep 647 (see below) following Judgments in other cases raising similar issues. The issue of nature and effect of lifting the corporate veil and its relevance from the jurisdictional point of view is currently the subject of an application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
    • Antonio Gramsci Shipping Corp v Recoletos Ltd [2011] EWHC 2242: Robert represented Claimants in a dispute relating to the appropriateness of a Worldwide Freezing Injunction and successfully resisted the setting aside of the Order on grounds of alleged non-disclosure, absence of a risk of dissipation and delay.
    • Antonio Gramsci Shipping Corp v Recoletos Ltd [2011] 1 Ll Rep 647: This ground-breaking decision concerned the scope and application of the Brussels Regulation in the context of lifting the corporate veil. Robert was instrumental in developing and successfully advanced arguments to persuade the Court to accept jurisdiction under the EU Regulation over a claim against those alleged to stand behind a massive commercial fraud.
    • Tryggingafelagio Fororar P/F v CPT Empresas Maritimas SA [2011] 1 CLC 425 - this case raised issues relating to the Court's substantive jurisdiction, anti-suit injunctions and the point at and terms upon which a contract came into being in the specialist context of off-shore emergencies.
    • Dolphin Maritime and Aviation Services Ltd v Sveriges Angartygs Assurans Forening [2009] Ll Rep Plus 50 - this decision concerned the application of the EU Judgments Regulation to the torts of inducing a breach of contract and unlawful means conspiracy and the scope of the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999.
    • The Petroleum Oil and Gas Corporation of South Africa (PTY) Ltd v FR8 Singapore Pte Ltd (The "ETERNITY") [2009] 1 Lloyd's Rep 107.  The dispute related to the obligation to operate an inert gas system in accordance with IMO procedures was absolute or one of due diligence, whether a failure to adequately operate an inert gas system was covered by the exception for default in management of the vessel under Art IV Hague-Visby rules and whether a demurrage claim was time-barred by a failure to present signed pumping logs.
    • Verity Shipping SA and Another v NV Norexia and others (The "SKIER STAR") [2008] 1 Lloyd's Rep. 652: Robert acted for the Defendant bill of lading holders successfully applying to set aside an anti-suit injunction on the grounds of delay and risk of inconsistent decisions.
    • Pacific Maritime (Asia) Ltd v Holystone Overseas Ltd [2008] 1 Lloyd's Rep. 371.  This case concerned a freezing order under s 44 Arbitration Act 1996 in relation to a dispute about liability under a Memorandum of Agreement for the sale of a floating prison.
    • Compania Sud American Vapores v MS ER Hamburg Schiffahrtsgesellschaft MBH & Co KG  [2006] 2 Lloyd's Rep. 66 - The issue was the interaction of Clause 8 NYPE, placing responsibility for loading and stowing on the charterers, and seaworthiness obligations under the Hague-Visby Rules.  Robert was led by Jeremy Russell QC on behalf of the Owners, who were successful.

    Wet Shipping

    Since starting in Chambers, Robert has been involved in numerous collision and salvage cases and regularly appears in LOF salvage arbitrations, variously for ship, cargo and contractors.

  • International Trade & Commodities K View More

    Robert regularly advises and acts in commodity cases, both in the context of technical disputes as quality, description etc and in relation to sale of goods issues and documentary credits. He has experience in GAFTA, FOSFA, ICC and LCIA arbitrations in these areas.  

    He is currently acting in a number of cases including a US$25m FOSFA arbitration in which he is advising a leading, international trading house, an ad hoc ICC arbitration relating to grain trading in which he is advising buyers and a multi-jurisdictional dispute in which he is advising middle eastern clients.

  • International Arbitration K View More

    The vast majority of Robert’s practice is in international arbitration. He regularly advises and acts in references held under all of the major institutional rules such as the LCIA, UNCITRAL and ICC Rules, as well as the LMAA, GAFTA and FOSFA rules.

    He also has a breadth of experience in relation to arbitration applications to the English High Court, predominantly under sections 12, 44, 68, 69 and 72 of the Arbitration Act 1996: see, by way of example, in Expofrut SA v Melville Services Inc [2015] EWHC 1950. He has substantial experience in preparing and obtaining Freezing Orders in support of arbitration claims and related applications.

    By its nature arbitration work is confidential, but current cases include the following:

    Robert has recently be instructed to represent a major oil company in a dispute against a state-owned counterparty in a dispute arising out of a reciprocal investment in the oil fields in Brazil and India. The issues are many and varied and cover both technical issues relating to the failure exploratory wells and legal issues arising in the relation to the meaning and scope of the agreements between the parties.  

    He is representing a major international trading house in an ad hoc UNICTRAL arbitration relating to a JOA for a gas production facility, seeking and maintaining a Worldwide Freezing Order in respect of the same, successfully resisting an attempt to set the injunction aside and, in so doing, persuading the Commercial Court on some important issues relating to its jurisdiction and the nature and scope of the UNCITRAL Rules. The case also relates to an international investment treaty dispute. 

    Robert is representing a well-known international trader in an ad hoc ICC arbitration relating to grain trading. The matter is a multi-party arbitration involving a string of similar contracts 

    A multi-jurisdictional dispute in which he is advising middle eastern clients on a range of issues relating to share sale and purchase and investment obligations.

    Robert regularly advises and acts in commodity cases, both in the context of technical disputes as quality, description etc and in relation to sale of goods issues and documentary credits. by way of example, he is currently for a leading international trading house in a US$25m FOSFA arbitration and for another in a dispute over the sale of copper concentrates.

    Robert is also receiving an increasing number of appointments to sit as an arbitrator.

  • Civil Fraud K View More

    Since taking silk in 2011, Robert has been heavily involved in the Antonio Gramsci and the Access Bank Plc litigation. 

    The former centres around a substantial commercial fraud, raises jurisdictional issues and questions of general importance as to the circumstances in which it is appropriate to and the consequences of "lifting the Corporate Veil".  The case also involved Robert in applying for and maintaining a Worldwide Freezing Order in this jurisdiction and a related Order overseas.

    The latter arises out of an allegedly fraudulent failure to make payments due under a contract of guarantee/indemnity in relation to imported petroleum products. Robert applied for and successfully maintained a Worldwide Freezing Order and sought and obtained a series of unless orders resulting from the Defendants' persistent breaches of the Court's Orders.

    Robert is also currently acting in other cases involving significant and complex allegations of fraud. These include:

    Acting for a substantial Middle Eastern client in a multi-jurisdictional dispute arising out of alleged fraudulent misrepresentations said to have been made to induce the purchase of significant shareholdings in various companies.

    Advising (pre-action) in relation to allegations of pre-contractual fraudulent misrepresentations leading to the sale of a passenger vessel.

    Acting for former directors of a limited company accused of inducing a sale of shares by reason of the non-disclosure.

    For publicly available judgments, see:

    • KAIROS SHIPPING v. ENKA, THE “ATLANTIK CONFIDENCE" [2016] EWHC 2412 (Admiralty) in which Robert led a team in a 25 day trial before the Admiralty Judge in which the English Court considered for the first time an attempt to break limits under the 1976 Limitation Convention on grounds of scuttling.
    • Antonio Gramsci Shipping Corp v Recoletos Ltd [2012] 2 Ll Rep 365: Robert represented and argued the case on behalf of Claimants in a re-run of the jurisdictional dispute reported at [2011] 1 Ll Rep 647 (see below) following Judgments in other cases raising similar issues. The issue of nature and effect of lifting the corporate veil and its relevance from the jurisdictional point of view is currently the subject of an application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
    • Antonio Gramsci Shipping Corp v Recoletos Ltd [2011] EWHC 2242. Robert represented Claimants in a dispute relating to the appropriateness of a Worldwide Freezing Injunction and successfully resisted the setting aside of the Order on grounds of alleged non-disclosure, absence of a risk of dissipation and delay.
    • Antonio Gramsci Shipping Corp v Recoletos Ltd [2011] 1 Ll Rep 647: This ground-breaking decision concerned the scope and application of the Brussels Regulation in the context of lifting the corporate veil. Robert was instrumental in developing and successfully advanced arguments to persuade the Court to accept jurisdiction under the EU Regulation over a claim against those alleged to stand behind a massive commercial fraud.
    • In Breffka & Hehnke Gmbh & others v Navire Shipping & others [2012] EWHC 3124, Robert successfully represented cargo interests in a case based on Owners' fraudulent misrepresentation(s) as to the condition of the cargo upon shipment. The Judgment also provides a welcome clarification of the nature and effect of the so-called Retla clause in relation to steel cargoes.
    • Robert is also experienced and well-equipped to deal with related matters such as breach of fiduciary duty, see eg  Infection Control Ltd v Virrage Industries Ltd [2009] EWHC 2602 (QB).
  • Commercial Dispute Resolution K View More

    In addition to a substantial practice in commercial arbitration, Robert is regularly involved in a variety of general commercial disputes beyond the core areas of Chambers' work. Recently these have covered areas as diverse as software licensing, windfarm joint ventures, investment trusts, directors' duties, commercial agents, ATM licensing and commercial fraud.

    By way of example, in Alan Ramsay Sales & Marketing Ltd v Typhoo Tea Ltd [2016] 4 WLR 59, Robert resisted claims under the Commercial Agents Regulations and will shortly be appearing in the Court of Appeal on the appeal and cross-appeal in this case.

    He has also, since taking silk, Robert has been heavily involved in the Antonio Gramsci and the Access Bank Plc litigation.

    The former centres around a substantial commercial fraud, raises jurisdictional issues and questions of general importance as to the circumstances in which it is appropriate to and the consequences of "lifting the Corporate Veil". The case also involved Robert in applying for and maintaining a Worldwide Freezing Order in this jurisdiction and a related Order overseas.

    The latter arises out of an allegedly fraudulent failure to make payments due under contract of guarantee/indemnity in relation to imported petroleum products. Robert applied for and successfully maintained a Worldwide Freezing Order and sought and obtained a series of unless orders resulting from the Defendants' persistent breaches of the Court's Orders.

    For reported judgment see, for example:

    • Antonio Gramsci Shipping Corp v Recoletos Ltd [2012] 2 Ll Rep 365: Robert represented and argued the case on behalf of Claimants in a re-run of the jurisdictional dispute reported at [2011] 1 Ll Rep 647 (see below) following Judgments in other cases raising similar issues. The issue of nature and effect of lifting the corporate veil and its relevance from the jurisdictional point of view is currently the subject of an application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
    • Antonio Gramsci Shipping Corp v Recoletos Ltd [2011] EWHC 2242 Robert represented Claimants in a dispute relating to the appropriateness of a Worldwide Freezing Injunction and successfully resisted the setting aside of the Order on grounds of alleged non-disclosure, absence of a risk of dissipation and delay.
    • Antonio Gramsci Shipping Corp v Recoletos Ltd [2011] 1 Ll Rep 647: This ground-breaking decision concerned the scope and application of the Brussels Regulation in the context of lifting the corporate veil. Robert was instrumental in developing and successfully advanced arguments to persuade the Court to accept jurisdiction under the EU Regulation over a claim against those alleged to stand behind a massive commercial fraud.
  • Insurance & Reinsurance K View More

    Robert's practice encompasses both marine and non-marine. He regularly advises in relation to policy cover and recently has advised on a number of occasions in relation to "fraudulent devices" and brokers' negligence.  He has also lectured on the proposed legislative changes. Reported cases include:

    • Beazley v Horizon Offshore Contractors Inc [2005] Lloyd's Rep IR 231  - Robert acted for the Claimant insurers, who were seeking negative declaratory relief by reason of misrepresentation and non-disclosure.  Robert successfully obtained an anti-suit injunction to restrain proceedings on a marine insurance policy by the assured in Texas, in breach of an exclusive jurisdiction clause nominating the English courts. 
    • Advent Capital Plc v Ellinas Imports-Exports Ltd [2005] 2 Lloyd's Rep. 607- Robert acted as a junior to Michael Howard QC on behalf of the Claimant insurers under a cargo policy.  The policy contained an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of England, and the Claimants had obtained an anti-suit injunction against proceedings by the Defendant Assureds in Cyprus.  Since Cyprus subsequently became a member of the European Union and therefore subject to the Judgments Regulation, the question was whether the anti-suit injunction should be discharged, and whether the insurers' subsequent claim for negative declaratory relief contravened the "first seized" rule under the Regulation.
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution K View More

    Robert has experience in attending mediations on behalf of clients.

     

    He also sits as an arbitrator on a regular basis

  • Energy & Natural Resources K View More

    Following involvement in cases such as the Piper Alpha disaster in the early years of his practice, Robert has gained wide-ranging experience in the energy sector, both on and offshore. 

    Recent work has included advising and representing a major international trading house in an ad hoc UNICTRAL arbitration relating to a JOA for a gas production facility, seeking and maintaining a Worldwide Freezing Order in respect of the same, successfully resisting an attempt to set the injunction aside and, in so doing, persuading the Commercial Court on some important issues relating to its jurisdiction and the nature and scope of the UNCITRAL Rules. The case also relates to an international investment treaty dispute. 

    He is also instructed to represent a major oil company in a dispute against a state-owned counterparty in a dispute arising out of a reciprocal investment in the oil fields in Brazil and India. The issues are many and varied and cover both technical issues relating to the failure exploratory wells and legal issues arising in the relation to the meaning and scope of the agreements between the parties.  

    He has recently advised in respect of windfarm joint ventures and aspects of the Meygen project.

    In the offshore context, Robert has recently been involved in three substantial arbitrations focusing on legal and technical issues arising out of pipeline construction and maintenance. In addition, he has experience in technical disputes relating to jack-up and pontoon rigs, ROV's and recovery of oil from sunken vessels.

    He has also advised and appeared in a number of recent shipbuilding arbitrations and a superyacht construction dispute.

  • Practice & Procedure K View More

    As a commercial practitioner, Robert regularly addressed matters of practice and procedure.  He commonly advises in respect of and, as necessary, obtains Freezing Orders and Anti-Suit Injunctions.

    Most recently, in The Africa Reefer [2015] EWHC 1950, Robert represented cargo interests in an application under section 12 of the Arbitration Act 1996 for an extension of time for commencing arbitration.

    in Vitol Bahrain EC v Nasdec General Trading LLC and Others, [2013] EWHC 3359 Robert successfully applied to set aside an anti-suit injunction obtained against his clients, thus enabling them to pursue foreign proceedings in the UAE.

    In Access Bank Plc v Rofos & others [2012] Folio 1300 and Antonio Gramsci Shipping Corp v Recoletos Ltd [2011] EWHC 2242 (Comm), Robert represented Claimants in disputes relating to the appropriateness of a Worldwide Freezing Injunction and successfully resisted the setting aside of the Orders on various grounds including alleged non-disclosure, absence of a risk of dissipation and delay.

    In Moondance II [2013] 1 Ll Rep 269 represented charterers in its successful defence against claims of misrepresentation and subsequently argued successfully for security for costs in owners’ section 68 application.

    For other cases relating to anti-suit injunctions, see:

    • Tryggingafelagio Fororar P/F v CPT Empresas Maritimas SA [2011] 1 CLC 425 - this case raised issues relating to the Court's substantive jurisdiction, anti-suit injunctions and the point at and terms upon which a contract came into being in the specialist context of off-shore emergencies; and
    • Verity Shipping SA and Another v NV Norexia and others (The "SKIER STAR") [2008] 1 Lloyd's Rep. 652: Robert acted for the Defendant bill of lading holders successfully applying to set aside an anti-suit injunction on the grounds of delay and risk of inconsistent decisions.
    • Robert appeared before the Court of Appeal in E. D. & F. Man Liquid Products Ltd v. Patel and Another Times Law Reports 18th April 2003 (CA), one of the leading cases on the meaning of 'real prospect of successfully defending the claim' in CPR rules 13.3(1)(a) and 24.2(a)(ii).
  • Jurisdictional Disputes and Conflicts of Laws K View More

    Robert's core practice areas in shipping and insurance mean that he encounters issues relating to conflicts of laws and jurisdiction on a very regular basis.  Recent reported decisions on the conflicts of laws include:

    • Most recently, in The Africa Reefer [2015] EWHC 1950, Robert represented cargo interests in an application under section 12 of the Arbitration Act 1996 for an extension of time for commencing arbitration.
    • In Vitol Bahrain EC v Nasdec General Trading LLC and Others, [2013] EWHC 3359 Robert successfully applied to set aside an anti-suit injunction obtained against his clients, thus enabling them to pursue foreign proceedings in the UAE.
    • Antonio Gramsci Shipping Corp v Recoletos Ltd [2012] EWHC 1887 (Comm): Robert represented and argued the case on behalf of Claimants in a re-run of the jurisdictional dispute reported at [2011] 1 Ll Rep 647 (see below) following Judgments in other cases raising similar issues. The issue of nature and effect of lifting the corporate veil and its relevance from the jurisdictional point of view is currently the subject of an application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
    • Antonio Gramsci Shipping Corp v Recoletos Ltd [2011] 1 Ll Rep 647: This ground-breaking decision concerned the scope and application of the Brussels Regulation in the context of lifting the corporate veil. Robert was instrumental in developing and successfully advanced arguments to persuade the Court to accept jurisdiction under the EU Regulation over a claim against those alleged to stand behind a massive commercial fraud.
    • Dolphin Maritime and Aviation Services Ltd v Sveriges Angartygs Assurans Forening [2009] Ll Rep Plus 50 - this decision relates to the application of the EU Judgments Regulation to the torts of inducing a breach of contract and unlawful means conspiracy.
    • Verity Shipping SA and Another v NV Norexia and others (The "SKIER STAR") [2008] 1 Lloyd's Rep. 652: Robert acted for the Defendant bill of lading holders successfully applying to set aside an anti-suit injunction on the grounds of delay and risk of inconsistent decisions.
    • Beazley v Horizon Offshore Contractors Inc [2005] Lloyd's Rep IR 231 and Advent Capital Plc v. Ellinas Imports-Exports Ltd [2005] 2 Lloyd's Rep. 607  (for both see above under insurance)

"...frequently commended for his 'intellectual firepower'..."

(Chambers UK, 2017)

Academic


MA (Cantab)
Lic Spec Dr Eur (ULB)
BCL (Oxon)

Memberships


LMAA, BILA, Combar, LCIA

Presentations


Numerous papers and lectures on issues relating to shipping and insurance.

Languages


French, German and working knowledge of Spanish

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