History

Essex Court Chambers is a ‘magic circle’ set with a long and distinguished history.

Throughout the set’s evolution its members have been central to the development of international arbitration and complex multi-jurisdictional commercial litigation, both as leading advocates and future judges or arbitrators of global renown. Members’ participation in landmark cases punctuates this rich history – names such as Carl Zeiss, Suisse Atlantique, Fiona Trust and Factortame speak to such heritage.

Although connected to barristers practising in the early twentieth century, chambers in its present incarnation was established in 1961. It was then known as 4 Essex Court after splitting from 3 Essex Court (now Twenty Essex). There were five founding members: Michael Mustill (later Lord Mustill), Michael Kerr (later Lord Justice Kerr), Anthony Evans (later Lord Justice Evans), Anthony Diamond (later HHJ Judge Diamond QC) and Robert MacCrindle.

The set’s profile and ‘magic circle’ status was confirmed through subsequent members such as Mark Saville (later Lord Saville), Johan Steyn (later Lord Steyn), Anthony Colman (later Mr Justice Colman) and John Thomas (later Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales). It became Essex Court Chambers with the move from Middle Temple to Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1994.

Chambers grew under the 21 year headship of Gordon Pollock QC.  It established a dominant presence at home and abroad, best known for complex international commercial work and expertise in public international law. Dame Rosalyn Higgins (now Lady Higgins) became the first female judge and later President of the International Court of Justice. Sir Christopher Greenwood served as a judge of the International Court of Justice. More recently, Tim Eicke was appointed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as a judge of the European Court of Human Rights.

Other distinguished members have included: Jack Beatson (later Lord Justice Beatson), Bernard Eder (later Mr Justice Eder), Geraldine Andrews (now Lady Justice Andrews), Simon Bryan (now Mr Justice Bryan), Martin Griffiths (now Mr Justice Griffiths), Sara Cockerill (now Mrs Justice Cockerill, Judge In Charge of the Commercial Court 2020-2022), Richard Jacobs (now Mr Justice Jacobs) and David Foxton (now Mr Justice Foxton, Judge In Charge of the Commercial Court 2022-2024).

Retired judges amongst those identified above have helped set up new court systems in various jurisdictions, such as the Dubai International Financial Centre (Sir Anthony Colman, Sir Anthony Evans). Others sit as judges around the world, including the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal (Sir Jack Beatson) and Singapore International Commercial Court (Sir Bernard Eder). Many other current and former members have been influential in the creation of the modern law and practice of international arbitration – Johnny Veeder, Michael Mustill, Stewart Boyd, Toby Landau are names known throughout the international legal community. The Departmental Advisory Committee on Arbitration Law which gave rise to the Arbitration Act 1996 was led by Lord Saville.

There are currently 110 members of chambers, including 51 silks. Twenty members have joined from other sets or law firms since 2012. Numerous specialist practice areas have evolved over the past few decades – including civil fraud, asset-tracing, offshore corporate disputes, insolvency, modern chancery, public law and financial services regulation, commercial employment, revenue and international human rights.  Members of chambers have made pioneering advances in legal aspects of climate change and environmental impact.

Chambers’ growth has consolidated an elite reputation built on decades of proven excellence and an award-winning clerksroom. In practical business terms, this means that cross-disciplinary teams of top quality barristers can be bespoke curated for clients involved in complex disputes; whilst specialist counsel can be engaged at short notice to deal with urgent situations in courts or tribunals located here or abroad.

According to current published statistics, members of Essex Court Chambers made more appearances in the Commercial Court in each year during 2015-2022 than those of any other chambers. This achievement owes much to the skill and dedication of prior generations. It represents the successful merger of tradition and innovation which defines Essex Court Chambers.