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John Denis-Smith

“It absolutely was a pleasure to work with John – he added considerable value in getting us to where we are.” FTSE100 enterprise client

John is a solutions-driven practitioner with a singular focus on helping his clients to achieve a swift and pragmatic result in any dispute. His approach is to explore all angles, persistently building on the evidence to identify the best options for a successful resolution. Both in his commercial practice as well as in construction disputes, he dedicates his energy, knowledge and ingenuity to getting clients the quickest and most favourable results. His approach is informed by previous experience as a construction litigator in top tier solicitors’ firms, which has given him a closer understanding of a client’s needs and a grasp of the best strategic approach to managing high-value disputes. John has developed niche expertise, especially in fire cases and fire prevention works, in particular in relation to construction and insurance issues arising.

He has been praised for his “coolness and tenacity” in arguing his client’s case. During a mediation, his pragmatism led a solicitor client state “we’d have you in the room on our side anytime” and another was delighted with “our successful working relationship”.  

John’s experience is wide and ranges across all dispute resolution areas, including mediation and arbitration, as well as various sectors, from construction and energy to professional negligence and insurance. He receives instructions in disputes as counsel, either on his own or led by some of these chambers’ highly-regarded silks, or instructions for advisory work. He also receives instructions from clients under the Direct Access scheme.

Areas of expertise


John has a wide-ranging practice in construction disputes including:

  • Delay damages claims under NEC forms
  • Disputes under JCT contracts, including claims for additional work/disputes concerning responsibility for design or construction defects
  • Disputes under ICE Conditions of Contract, including issues of responsibility for work not capable of being performed legally
  • Disputes concerning termination provisions and remedies
  • Disputes concerning the effect of absence of planning permission
  • Interim and final account claims
  • Defects and remedial works claims, including claims for resulting financial loss and limitation bar disputes
  • Enforcement of adjudication decisions
  • Professional negligence claims
  • Claims in relation to listed buildings

John has extensive experience in mediation, including acting in relation to:

  • Delay damages claims under NEC forms
  • Multi-party property damage disputes
  • Post-sale title and alleged conversion dispute
  • Defects and remedial works claims
  • Professional negligence claims

Extensive experience of adjudication, including

  • Claims for extensions of time and payment and related enforcement proceedings
  • Claims by local authority for delayed completion of works and defects
  • Defending employer’s claim for alleged repudiation and damages
  • Disputes in relation to interim applications and pay less notices
  • Final account disputes

Cases of note:

  • Advising and acting for sub-contractors on (ongoing) claims arising out of alleged non-compliance with Building Regulations concerning fire in the construction of internal and external works, including external cladding, in a complex multi-party dispute arising out of the design and construction of a specialist emergency care hospital in Northumberland, in which quantum is claimed in excess of £125m;
  • Acting for a South-East Asian shipbuilding company in London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) arbitration (claims and counterclaims of over £100m) and related court proceedings arising out of contracts for the construction of drilling rigs;
  • Acting in proceedings covering multi-million pound claims pursued in multiple jurisdictions, concerning alleged defects in cladding works to residential properties, including advice on limitation, liability caps, and acting in successful mediation;
  • Acting for an architect in a claim for fees and defence to a multi-million pound counterclaim for professional negligence against a high net worth individual client relating to the multi-million pound development of an estate in Herefordshire comprising listed manor house and other buildings;
  • Acting in adjudications and various adjudication enforcement proceedings, including successfully enforcing an adjudication decision in the face of allegations of a breach of natural justice and defeating the defendant’s application for a stay of execution on the grounds of the claimant’s financial position (Berry Piling Systems v Sheer Projects [2012] EWHC 241 (TCC) 141 CON LR 225);
  • Acting for an employer in claims against a contractor and professional negligence claim against engineers for damages arising out of collapse of a listed building during development works, including successfully acting for client in opposing an application for order for preliminary issues (Aldersgate Estates Ltd v HAM Construction Ltd [2013] EWHC 104 (TCC))


John has a wide ranging experience of general commercial disputes.  Experience includes:

  • Supply chain contractual disputes
  • Property damage disputes, including fire damage and insurance coverage issues
  • Enforcement of overseas court orders
  • Share purchase agreement disputes
  • Utilities contractual disputes
  • Securing injunctions and other equitable remedies

Cases of note:

  • Advice and acting in property damage disputes, including negotiations leading to successful settlement of, claims by building owners against contractor and specialist sub-contractor, including fire damage and insurance coverage issues, on matters ranging from a warehouse fire in commercial premises to a fire in a town hall/museum in London;
  • Successful defence of claim to enforce overseas court order against individual directors arising out of contract between company and claimant: Firematic Engineering (M) SDN.BHD.(507499-W) v ASL Air Exchanger Services Limited and Others;
  • Acting for a defendant in claim of fraud arising out of investment in mining resources in developing state.