Described as “one of the cleverest barristers at the commercial Bar”, Nigel Eaton KC has a broad-based practice in domestic and international commercial disputes, with a particular focus on shipping, ship sale and construction, international trade and commodities, insurance and reinsurance, energy and natural resources, and related areas. “Analytically brilliant and an excellent advocate”, he argues cases before the English Courts, both at first instance (particularly in the Commercial Court) and on appeal, and before domestic and international arbitration tribunals, both ad hoc and institutional (including ICC, LCIA, LMAA, UNCITRAL, and FOSFA/GAFTA). Ranked as a leading practitioner by professional directories, Nigel is rated as “just brilliant”, “an extraordinarily able black-letter lawyer” who “brings an intellectual rigour to cases” and is client-friendly in his approach”. He is commended both for “exceptional” legal analysis and for “incisive and persuasive” advocacy.
In shipping – where he is regarded as “one of the leading KCs in the field” – Nigel’s practice includes disputes under bills of lading, contracts of affreightment, time charters, voyage charters, and demise charters, and covers a full spectrum of legal, commercial, and technical issues, including seaworthiness, cargo claims, hire and off-hire, unsafe ports, dangerous cargoes, and laytime & demurrage. He has extensive experience of disputes involving a wide range of both dry and liquid bulk cargoes as well as containerised cargoes, and a variety of commercial vessel types, including bulk carriers, tankers, container ships, LNG carriers, rigs, floating storage and other specialised offshore vessels, ro-ro transporters, cruise and passenger ships, and fast ferries. Nigel has also acted (for both builders and buyers) in numerous shipbuilding arbitrations under SAJ and CMAC and other standard-forms and variants, including delay and cancellation disputes, actions about compliance with contractual description and quality, and refund and guarantee claims. He has experience of ship sale & purchase disputes under the Norwegian Saleform and other contract forms. Alongside this experience of disputes involving commercial vessels, Nigel has frequently been involved in cases relating to the chartering, construction, and sale and purchase of luxury yachts.
A “go to silk” for international trade cases, Nigel regularly acts in disputes under CIF, FOB and other forms of contract for the sale & purchase of a wide variety of goods and commodities, including mineral oil, gas, coal, chemicals and fertilisers, steel, ores, vegetable oils, and grains and other foodstuffs. His practice includes disputes about title, quality and rejection, payment, price and price adjustment, frustration, and the impact of sanctions, and covers long-term and instalment contracts as well as one-off sales. He also has extensive experience of legal issues relating to financial instruments used in international trade, including guarantees, performance bonds, and letters of credit.
Nigel’s insurance & reinsurance experience covers both marine and non-marine business in areas including property, liability, P&I, and professional indemnity. He acts in disputes about coverage, policy construction, avoidance, and causation and loss. Nigel has experience of political risks policies, including disputes relating to investments in a range of commercial and infrastructure projects in Africa, China, South America, and other parts of the world. He was involved in litigation about the LMX spiral and claims brought by Lloyd’s names against underwriters and agents, and has acted in disputes about both proportional and non-proportional reinsurance.
In energy, Nigel’s experience includes disputes involving joint ventures, field and operating agreements, pipeline & transportation contracts, gas sale agreements, and electricity supply agreements. He has been involved in a number of cases about long term contracts for the supply of coal to power stations.
Nigel regularly deals with procedural and remedial matters which arise in litigation and arbitration, including jurisdiction challenges, disputes about applicable law and other conflicts of law issues, and injunctions and other interlocutory applications.
- What Others Say
‘He is just brilliant; his grasp of the law is exceptional.’
Chambers UK Bar 2023 – Shipping & Commodities
‘A knowledgeable, academic and accurate barrister.’
Chambers UK Bar 2023 – Shipping & Commodities
‘Nigel can always be trusted to give a reliable, neutral guidance on the prospects of a case where others can sit on the fence or give overblown advice.’
Legal 500 UK Bar 2023 – Shipping
‘He prepares thoroughly and makes sure all the points are covered.’
Chambers UK Bar 2022 – Shipping & Commodities
‘One of the leading QCs in the fields of shipping and commodities. Very strong analytically and an incisive and persuasive advocate.’
Chambers UK Bar 2022 – Shipping
‘One of the cleverest barristers at the commercial Bar, he offers superb clarity and can be trusted to give reliable guidance.’
Legal 500 UK Bar 2021 – Commodities
‘Brilliant at analysis.’ ‘Thorough, measured and utterly reliable.’
Chambers UK Bar 2019 – Shipping & Commodities
‘A go-to silk for trading cases, he is able to cut through complex factual and legal issues to give concise and high-quality advice.’
Legal 500 UK Bar 2018 – Commodities
‘He is very highly rated.’
Legal 500 UK Bar 2018 – Shipping
‘Clever, hard-working and brilliant in court.’ ‘He’s got a mind like a razor. He is incredibly strong on analysis and first-rate at putting together complex arguments.’
Chambers UK Bar 2018 – Shipping & Commodities
‘Analytically brilliant and an excellent advocate.’
Legal 500 UK Bar 2017 – Commodities
‘He wins cases by being completely on top of the facts and by presenting them clearly.’
Legal 500 UK Bar 2017 – Shipping
‘He is extremely methodical, and a very clear and clever advocate who is very composed. I use him on cases where we need to understand technical expert evidence. He has incredible attention to detail and is really strong analytically. He is an all-round impressive performer.’
Chambers UK Bar 2017 – Shipping
‘He brings an intellectual rigour to cases and is able to identify arguments others might not.’
Legal 500 2016 – Commodities
Legal 500 2016 – Shipping
“He is an extraordinarily able black-letter lawyer whose analysis of contract law is superb. He is quiet, methodical, very user-friendly, and he produces first-rate written work. He knows how courts and tribunals approach a problem.”
Chambers UK Bar 2016 – Shipping & Commodities
“He has a brilliant analytical mind, is very user-friendly, and understands how courts and tribunals think.”
Legal 500 2015 – Commodities
“Client-friendly in his approach.”
Legal 500 2015 – Shipping
“He prepares thoroughly and makes sure all the points are covered.”
Chambers UK Bar 2015 – Shipping & Commodities
“Very punchy and effective at making the best points.”
Legal 500 2014 – Commodities
“Very strong on the insurance aspects of dry shipping disputes… He prepares his cases with considerable care and attention to detail, and exhibits great judgment.”
Chambers UK Bar 2014 – Shipping & Commodities
“A very robust advocate, and not afraid to advance very difficult points.”
Legal 500 2013 – Commodities
“Commended for his ‘nice manner with arbitrators’ and his strength at identifying worthwhile arguments.”
Chambers UK Bar 2013 – Shipping & Commodities
“Has made it his business to know both the concepts and the law better than his peers.”
Chambers UK Bar 2012 – Shipping & Commodities
- Notable Cases
RTI v MUR  EWCA Civ 1406 (Court of Appeal) &  Bus LR 473 (Commercial Court)
Whether a force majeure in a long-term contract of affreightment was triggered when the US Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions which affected one of the contracting parties.
Forum Services v OOS International BV  EWHC 170 (Comm)
Commercial Court trial of a claim for commission alleged to have been earned for assistance in securing tenders for chartering offshore units to the Brazilian national oil and gas company, Petrobras.
Rubicon Vantage International Pte Ltd v Krisenergy Ltd  1 Lloyd’s Rep 330
Commercial Court action under a guarantee issued by the parent company of the time charterer of an offshore floating oil storage and offloading unit. The case raised issues as to whether the instrument was a true “see to it” guarantee or an “on-demand” performance bond.
Capstan Capital Partners v Rickmers Holding AG  EWHC 1560 (Ch)
Trial in the Chancery Division of a financial consultant’s claim for a success fee said to have fallen due in relation to arrangement of non-bank capital finance.
BP Gas Marketing v La Societe Sonatrach (2016) 169 Construction Law Reports 141
Commercial Court trial of issues of liability for processing costs under a joint shippers’ agreement governing the relationship between parties supplying LNG to the National Grid’s Isle of Grain terminal.
Saipol SA v Inerco Trade  1 Lloyd’s Rep 26.
Appeal by buyers of contaminated vegetable oil to the Commercial Court against the decision of a FOSFA Board of Appeal on questions of law relating to causation and loss, in circumstances where the contaminated bulk cargo was composed of parcels supplied by various different sellers.
The ‘LNG Gemini’  2 Lloyd’s Rep 113.
Commercial Court trial of an action by owners of an LNG carrier against time charterers for alleged breach of the charter by loading an “injurious cargo”.
Novoship v Mikhaylyuk & Others (Commercial Court).
Appeared for one of the Defendants throughout the interlocutory stages of large-scale litigation about of bribery and secret profits in relation to the chartering of tankers ultimately owned by the Russian state to the Venezuelan oil and gas national, PDVSA.
Great Eastern Shipping Co Ltd v Far East Chartering Ltd  1 Lloyd’s Rep 637
Commercial Court trial, and appeal to the Court of Appeal, of claims by a shipowner against a sub-charterer – relying on the Contracts (Rights Of Third Parties) Act 1999 – under a letter of indemnity after cargo was misdelivered without production of an original bill of lading.
Sucden Financial Ltd v Fluxo-Cane Overseas Ltd  2 CLC 216
Commercial Court trial of a claim by a futures and options broker against a former client for the balance of account due after the liquidation of the clients sugar futures positions on the New York Intercontinental Exchange.
The ‘Ekha’  1 CLC 94 (Court of Appeal) &  1 Lloyd’s Rep 543
Claims and counter claims under a contract for the charter of a jack-up drilling rig to drill exploratory wells in the Bay of Bengal after the rig was damaged during the pre-loading operation.
Galaxy Energy International (BVI) v Eurobunker SpA  2 Lloyd’s Rep 725 (Commercial Court)
Whether an inspector’s certificate was conclusive as to the quality of the goods under a contract for the sale of gasoil.
Solo Industries v Canara Bank  1 WLR 1800
Summary judgment in the Commercial Court, and on appeal to the Court of Appeal, turning on whether the principle that fraud must be “clearly” proved to afford a defence to a claim under a demand guarantee applied where the defence was that the guarantee itself had been procured by fraud.
Amoco (UK) Exploration Co v Teesside Gas Transportation Ltd (1997-2001)
Claims for payment under the “take or pay” provisions of a gas capacity reservation and transportation agreement relating to the Central Area Transmission System in the North Sea.
The ‘Goodpal’  1 Lloyd’s Rep 638
Whether a shipowner was liable under a charterparty for short-delivery of bulk cargo at the final discharge port in circumstances where receivers at an discharge port had discharged more than their proper share of the bulk.
The ‘Bay Ridge’  2 Lloyd’s Rep 227 (Commercial Court)
Whether an exchange of offers and counter-offers on an “accept/except” basis had resulted in a concluded contract for the sale of a second hand cargo ship.
Arbuthnott v Feltrim Underwriting Agencies Ltd  CLC 437 (Commercial Court)
One of the principal cases in the Lloyd’s Litigation of the 1990’s, a claim by more than 1,500 Lloyd’s names against members’ agents and managing agents for negligence in relation to the underwriting of catastrophe excess of loss insurance during the late 1980’s.
- Arbitration & related court applications
A significant proportion of the cases in which Nigel is instructed are subject to arbitration, and he has extensive experience of both ad hoc and institutional arbitrations involving a wide range of commercial disputes, including insurance, reinsurance, commodities and sale of goods, shipping, ship construction, energy, and other commercial agreements. He has acted in numerous LCIA and LMAA arbitrations in England, and in ICC and UNCITRAL arbitrations both in England and abroad. Nigel regularly deals with applications under the Arbitration Act 1996, such as to stay legal proceedings, for the appointment/removal of arbitrators, for the exercise of judicial powers in support of arbitral proceedings, and for the correction of awards, as well as appeals from arbitration awards on points of law and challenges to awards for want of jurisdiction or on grounds of serious procedural irregularity.
- Banking & financial services
Nigel has advised and acted in cases involving letters of credit, guarantees, performance bonds and other financial instruments, including disputes as to whether an instrument is a “see to it” guarantee or an “on demand” performance bond; litigation about the scope of the fraud exception to the enforcement of performance bonds; and issues about the impact of insolvency and restructuring on guarantees. He has acted in a number of cases relating to guarantees and performance bonds issued by banks and parent companies in relation to shipbuilding contracts, and in several arbitrations brought by banks to recover substantial unpaid loans. He has experience of applications to restrain payment under guarantees and performance bonds.
- Commercial dispute resolution
Nigel has advised and acted in litigation and arbitration involving a diverse range of commercial subject, such as civil fraud and breach of fiduciary duty, professional negligence, and transactions on exchanges and markets. Examples include: acting for accountants in long-running professional negligence litigation relating to a failed tax avoidance scheme; appearing for one of multiple defendants in large-scale litigation involving allegations of bribery and secret profits; a substantial LCIA arbitration about the theft of oil stocks in East Africa; a claim by a futures and options broker against a former client following liquidation of the client’s positions; litigation about rights to the offshore assets of a deceased Middle Eastern businessman; and acting in a dispute between a financial consultant and a client about success fees following attempts to raise major non-bank capital finance.
- Conflict of laws & private international law
Cases in Nigel’s practice areas often involve questions of conflict of laws, and he has experience of a range of choice of law and jurisdiction issues, such as the incorporation and application of choice of law, jurisdiction, and arbitration clauses; issues of submission to jurisdiction; disputes about forum non conveniens and lis alibi pendens; and service of process outside the jurisdiction. He has acted in applications involving challenges to the jurisdiction of the English Court and to restrain proceedings in overseas jurisdictions, and also has experience of applications to enforce foreign judgments in England & Wales.
- Energy & natural resources
Nigel has experience of a range of energy-related disputes, including issues relating to oil and gas field agreements, pipeline and transportation contracts, and oil and gas sale agreements and electricity supply agreements (including contracts on the EFET forms). He has acted in a number of cases about long-term agreements for the supply of steam coal to power stations, and in several disputes involving the SCoTA coal contract form. He also has experience of LNG disputes, including issues about processing to make imported LNG comply with national transmission system standards, and of emissions trading allowances. Nigel has acted in cases concerning both on- and offshore drilling agreements. He was involved in substantial litigation about liability for damage caused by a major equipment failure onboard an advanced deepsea drillship, and in a long-running dispute involving claims and counterclaims following damage to a jack-up rig during a failed pre-loading operation.
- Insurance & reinsurance
Nigel has acted in coverage, avoidance and liability disputes in both the marine and the non-marine fields and in a range of areas, including business interruption, property, liability, P&I, and professional indemnity. He has experience both of the companies market and of Lloyd’s, and was involved in the Lloyd’s litigation. In reinsurance, he has experience of both quota share and excess of loss, and of both facultative and treaty arrangements. Nigel has also acted in a number of disputes under political risks policies, including cases relating to failure by the foreign government to pay for work on the reconstruction of oil facilities in Africa; foreign government intervention in the Argentine and Chinese power industries; misappropriation of substantial stocks of fuel from state storage facilities in East Africa; and government expropriation of onshore drilling equipment.
- International trade, transport & commodities
Disputes about the sale, supply, and transportation of a wide range of goods and commodities form a significant part of Nigel’s practice. He has substantial experience of disputes about title, quality and rejection, price and price adjustment, frustration, and the impact of sanctions, in relation to a range of commodities, including oil (both mineral and vegetable), coal (both steam and coking), ore, steel, and grains and other bulk foodstuffs, and has acted in cases under CIF, FOB and DES contracts, as well as contracts based on other INCOTERMS. Nigel has acted in a number of cases involving questions of whether and in what circumstances the results of sampling and testing by independent inspectors were contractually binding as to quality and compliance with an underlying sale contract. He also has experience of legal issues relating to carriage by road and air under the CMR and Warsaw Convention regimes, as well as carriage by sea, and of disputes between brokers and trader clients in relation to transactions on commodity exchanges.
- Ship sale & ship construction disputes
Nigel has substantial experience of shipbuilding disputes under the SAJ and CMAC forms, modified version of those forms, and bespoke contracts. He has acted for both buyers and builders in cases about delay and force majeure; extensions of time and the prevention principle; termination for delay and builders’ liability to refund pre-delivery instalments; buyers’ liability for stage payments; responsibility for design issues; compliance with contractual quality requirements and rejection for non-compliance; and builders’ post-delivery liability under quality guarantees and warranties. Nigel’s experience covers a wide variety of commercial vessels, including tankers, bulk carriers, offshore supply vessels, specialist dry cargo ships, deep-sea trawlers, and fast ferries. In addition, he has acted in numerous disputes about luxury yachts, including cases involving delay, payment, termination, and quality and compliance issues under yacht construction contracts. Nigel has also been involved in cases relating to the interpretation and enforcement of refund guarantees issued in relation to ship and yacht construction contracts. He has acted for both buyers and sellers in disputes under contracts (on Norwegian Saleform and on other terms) for the sale and purchase of second-hand ships and yachts, including cases about whether a binding contract was concluded; delay and delivery disputes; and issues about compliance with contractual description and quality requirements.
Nigel has extensive experience of a full spectrum of dry-shipping disputes under bills of lading, contracts of affreightment, time charters, voyage charters, and demise charters. He has been involved in numerous cases involving issues of seaworthiness; loss, damage, and misdelivery of cargo; dangerous cargoes; stevedore damage and pilfering; responsibility for loading and unloading operations; unsafe ports; laytime and demurrage; owners’ responsibility for maintenance and repair; charterers’ responsibility for bunkers; hire, off-hire, and withdrawal; freight liabilities and liens; the legitimacy of charterers’ orders; the impact of war, sanctions, infectious diseases, and frustration; and the time and place of delivery and re-delivery of chartered ships, including late redelivery disputes. His experience covers a wide range of dry and liquid cargoes, including oil, LNG, chemicals, coal, ore, steel, grains and other foodstuffs, refrigerated goods, and containerised cargoes, and a variety of different types of vessel, such as bulk carriers, tankers, LNG carriers, containerships, fast ferries, heavy lift vessels, and ro-ro transporters. Nigel is familiar with charterparty and bill of lading forms in regular use, and frequently deals with legal issues under the Hague/Hague-Visby Rules and the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1992. He has also acted in disputes under letters of indemnity, and in cases about the allocation of liability for cargo claims under the Inter-Club Agreement. Nigel has also been involved in shipping-related disputes not directly involving carriage of goods, including cases involving allegations of bribery and secret commissions in the conclusion of chartering arrangements, and claims by agents and brokers for success fees and commissions in relation to raising capital finance for shipping companies and tendering for chartering business.
2013 Queen’s Counsel.
1992 Barrister, Essex Court Chambers.
1991-1992 Pupil, Essex Court Chambers.
1991 Called to the Bar (Gray’s Inn).
1990 Bachelor Of Civil Law (First Class Honours), Magdalen College, Oxford
1989 BA in Jurisprudence (First Class Honours), Magdalen College, Oxford
1991 Eldon Law Scholarship, University Of Oxford.
1990 Inns Of Court Scholarship.
1989 Martin Wronker Prize for first in year in Jurisprudence Finals. Subject prizes in tort and in trusts.