Professional practice

Legal 500 Leading Silk

Described as the “complete package” and “the best barrister I have seen on his feet”, the “highly commercial” and “savvy” Stephen Houseman KC handles a wide range of international commercial and corporate disputes across the spectrum of business and financial sectors. His silk practice has a focus on banking, finance & investment, shareholder & company  disputes as well as specialist arbitration-related injunction work. Many of his cases are substantial and complex in nature, often involving multi-jurisdictional contexts or foreign law elements or interplay between arbitration and court. The international nature of Stephen’s practice means he appears regularly in courts and tribunals around the world. He is admitted/registered in offshore jurisdictions including the Cayman Islands, St Lucia, Antigua & Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) and their respective appellate courts.

As well as frequent engagement in interlocutory, jurisdictional and injunctive matters, for which he is so well-known, Stephen has been involved in heavyweight trials in the Commercial Court and Chancery Division throughout his 25 years in practice. He was lead advocate, instructed by Clifford Chance on behalf of a principal defendant, in a seven-week fraud trial in Yukos Finance v. Lynch & others during 2019.

Stephen sits as a Deputy Judge of the High Court in London, Queen’s Bench Division (Commercial Court) and Chancery Division (Business List). He also acts as arbitrator in commercial disputes and has provided expert evidence, including oral testimony, on English law in proceedings in foreign jurisdictions including Switzerland, Ukraine, USA and Canada.

Stephen has been recognised in the main legal directories in several practice areas: Commercial Dispute Resolution / Commercial Litigation; Banking & Finance; International Arbitration; Energy & Utilities; Insurance & Reinsurance. He has attracted praise for his “superb judgment” as well as “technical excellence … on complex points of law and contractual elucidation”. He is known for being “very bright”, “talented” and “strategically superb”; an “extremely clever” all-rounder who “focuses on the real issues, handles the client well and has a good sense of humour”.

Clients and observers have consistently praised Stephen for his abilities both inside and outside the courtroom. He is described as an “exceptional advocate”, “terrific cross-examiner”, “great courtroom advocate”, “a master of the courtroom” with “an extremely strong reputation in the commercial arena”; an “uber competent advocate” who is “very quick to spot the most pertinent points” and who has an “assertive and to-the-point approach” when presenting cases on behalf of his clients. His style on his feet ensures that “judges trust him” and that he in turn “can be trusted with the most difficult and sensitive of cases”. He is also recognised for his “good strategic sense” and “exemplary judgement” when advising and guiding on tactical aspects of complex proceedings. On a more personal level, market commentators describe Stephen as a “delight to work with”, “thorough and charming to deal with” and “utterly reliable”, reflecting his “down-to-earth” and “goodhumoured” manner with judges, tribunals, clients and fellow professionals. He is acknowledged as a “real team player”.

 

What others say

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2023, International Arbitration: General Commercial & Insurance:

“He is very user-friendly.” “He’s extremely intelligent and a dogged strategist.” “He’s incredibly responsive, very hands-on and a complete delight to work with. He is also a superb advocate.”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2023, Offshore:

“Stephen Houseman is an extremely clever lawyer.” “He is truly excellent. He is reassuring and possesses an effective style in the courtroom. He is an instructing solicitor’s dream.” “He is a very persuasive and user-friendly advocate. Stephen Houseman was very good on the written work and was a good part of the team.”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2023, Commercial Dispute Resolution:

“He is a spirited and enthusiastic silk who truly knows his stuff and can be trusted with the most difficult and sensitive of cases.”

Legal 500 2023, Banking & Finance:

“A go-to counsel for financial disputes, a fantastic team player.”

Legal 500 2023, Commercial Litigation:

“Very user-friendly, extremely intelligent and calm under pressure.”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2022, Commercial Dispute Resolution:
“A very calm and very persuasive advocate. He fights really hard for his clients and responds really well to tough questioning from judges.”

Legal 500 2022, Banking & Finance:
“He does a fantastic job and absolutely lives and breathes the case. He is totally charming.”

Legal 500 2022, Commercial Litigation:
“Very smart, and a polished and highly effective advocate. He is also very calm under pressure and user-friendly – Stephen doesn’t get flustered if things don’t go quite to plan and is also a great team-player.”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2021, Commercial Dispute Resolution:
“An excellent advocate and a master of the courtroom” who “can be trusted with the most difficult and sensitive of cases.”

Legal 500 2021, Banking and Finance:
“His intelligence, and his ability to clearly advocate a complex legal argument, are both strong points, but he is also a pleasure to work with and a real team player.”

Legal 500 2021, Commercial Litigation:
“He was excellent, charming and forceful – an uber competent advocate.”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2020, Commercial Dispute Resolution:
“Couples sound legal knowledge and first-rate communication skills with the ability to quickly grasp complex issues and identify commercial solutions.”

Legal 500 2020, Banking and Finance:
Easy to deal with, proactive and a good combination of strategic oversight plus willing.

Legal 500 2020, Commercial Litigation:
An exceptional advocate – he makes a debate with the Court of Appeal over difficult and complex points of law look like a chat about the weather.

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2019, Commercial Dispute Resolution:
“An incredibly tenacious advocate, he fights difficult cases very robustly, and is a very good court operator.”

Legal 500 2019, Banking and Finance:
“A spirited and enthusiastic silk who truly knows his stuff.”

Legal 500 2019, Commercial Litigation:
“The complete package – very user friendly, hardworking, and a great courtroom advocate.”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2018, Commercial Dispute Resolution:
“He’s a forceful advocate, who is very user-friendly.”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2018, Insurance:
“Very commercial and good with clients.” “He has really good turnaround times, and is prompt and efficient.”

Legal 500 2017, Banking and Finance:
“Solid and responsive.”

Legal 500 2017, Commercial Litigation:

“He cuts through the detail very quickly and is very commercial in his approach.’

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2014, Commercial Dispute Resolution:
“He has superb judgment and, presentationally, he is the best barrister I have seen on his feet. Really impressive.”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2013, Commercial Dispute Resolution:
“utterly reliable”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2013, Insurance:
“outstanding practitioner”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2012, Commercial Dispute Resolution:
“highly commercial and responsive” / noted for his “clear and succinct pleadings”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2012, Insurance:
“talented”

Legal 500 2011, Insurance & Reinsurance:
The “very bright” Stephen Houseman “focuses on the real issues, handles the client well and has a good sense of humour”

Chambers and Partners UK Global 2011:
“considered advocate” who is “very quick to spot the most pertinent points”

Legal 500 2010, Insurance & Reinsurance:
Stephen Houseman has “excellent drafting skills and a turnaround time that is second to none”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2010, Commercial Dispute Resolution:
appeared to good effect in Digicel v Cable & Wireless.”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2010, Insurance:
“impressive” / “analyses his cases clearly and does an excellent job in thinning them down to the genuinely strong points”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2009, Commercial Dispute Resolution:
Observers stress the fine reputation of the “down-to-earth and proactive” Stephen Houseman. Combining “a hands-on attitude with good strategic sense,” he adopts an “assertive and to-the- point approach”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2009, Insurance:
“a profound understanding of not only the law of this country but also that of many others”

Legal 500 2008, Arbitration:
“approachable, good-humoured but immensely hard-working and savvy”

Legal 500 2008, Insurance & Reinsurance:
Stephen Houseman is a “delight to work with”

Chambers and Partners UK Bar 2008, Commercial Dispute Resolution:
Stephen Houseman scores highly for “technical excellence” in proceedings that turn on complex points of law and contractual elucidation. Users of his services find him “thorough and charming to deal with”

Summary of Practice

Stephen commenced practice in 1997.  He took silk 16 years later in 2013. His work over the last 25 years has evolved through a broad spectrum of international commercial disputes with a current emphasis on banking, finance & investment, shareholder & corporate disputes as well as specialist arbitration-related injunction work. His portfolio of reported and decided cases speaks for itself: it can be found online and is not summarised in this CV. Further details of specific experience in any particular practice area, economic market/sector or  legal/procedural context can be provided upon request.

Stephen has noted and extensive experience of interlocutory, appellate and injunctive work, in particular arbitration-related anti-suit injunctions. Prominent recent cases have considered the arbitrability of foreign insolvency-related claims or procedures: see Nori Holding v. PJSC Bank Otkritie Financial Corp [2018] 2 Lloyd’s Rep. 80 (Males J); RiverRock Securities v. International Bank of St. Petersburg JSC [2020] 2 Lloyd’s Rep. 591 (Foxton J); Louis Dreyfus Company Suisse SA v. International Bank of St. Petersburg JSC [2021] Costs L.R. 441 (Calver J). Others such as C v. D and Sulamerica (both Court of Appeal) are well-known to international arbitration practitioners.  A separate up-to-date profile of Stephen’s anti-suit and related injunction experience is available here.

Stephen’s appellate work includes recent or pending cases in the Court of Appeal on substantive appeals from both Chancery Division (e.g. Dinglis Management Ltd. & another v. Dinglis Property Ltd. [2019] EWCA Civ 127) and Commercial Court (e.g. Vale SA v. Steinmetz [2021] EWCA Civ 1087); the Singapore Court of Appeal (Singapore Airlines v. CSDS [2022] SGCA (I) 3 in January 2022, on appeal from trial judgment [2021] SICC(I) 3); the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal (1Globe Capital v. Sinovac during 2019-2022 – appeal pending in Privy Council) and the Privy Council (e.g. Airport Authority v. Western Air [2020] UKPC 29).

In terms of ‘big trial’ experience, Stephen has been involved throughout his practice in high- profile and heavyweight battles. These include, as junior counsel, ICS v. West Bromwich (Chancery Division, 1998; equity release mortgages / lender’s duty of care), Society of Lloyd’s v. Jaffray (Commercial Court, 2000; asbestos-related liabilities / fraud claim), Digicel v. Cable & Wireless (Chancery Division, 2009) (interconnection of telecoms networks / conspiracy claim); and then, as junior silk together with David Foxton KC (now Mr Justice Foxton) in BVG v. JP Morgan (Commercial Court, 13 weeks during 2013; alleged mis-selling of credit default swaps) and Dar Al Arkan (Commercial Court, 10 weeks during 2015; conspiracy / misuse of confidential information in Islamic financing context). Stephen acted as lead counsel, instructed by Clifford Chance and leading Sebastian Isaac (appointed silk in 2022) on behalf of a principal defendant, in a seven-week fraud trial in the Commercial Court during 2019 in Yukos Finance BV v. Lynch & others (judgment of Sir Michael Burton GBE [2019] EWHC 2621 (Comm), one of The Lawyer’s Top 20 Trials of the Year, rejecting all claims against the defendants relating to participation in an allegedly rigged auction of Yukos assets by the Russian State during 2007).

Stephen has been involved in a wide range of banking, finance and investment-related disputes with particular experience in bondholder/noteholder and trustee disputes: e.g. Concord Trust v. Law Debenture Trust Corporation [2005] 1 WLR 1591 (House of Lords); recent arbitral proceedings on behalf of note trustee (MadPac) in Madison Pacific Trust Ltd. v. JSC Commercial Bank Privatbank [2020] EWHC 610 (Ch); rectification claim concerning security instrumentation acting on behalf of defendant security agent in FSHC Group Holdings Ltd. v. Barclays Bank plc [2018] EWHC 1558 (Ch).

A noted trend within Stephen’s silk practice has been increasing demand for his involvement in shareholder disputes, both onshore and offshore, court or arbitration, as well as what may be called ‘corporate misappropriation’ disputes following the breakdown of a contractual arrangement (e.g. joint venture / quasi-partnership) or failed merger or acquisition or consolidation. These cases often involve allegations of misuse of confidential information or intellectual property infringement as well as economic torts such as conspiracy and/or unfair prejudice to shareholders. A separate summary of this type of work can be provided upon request. Current or recent examples include: Trappit SA v. American Express Europe LLC [2021] EWHC 1344 (Ch) (airfare re-booking system); Crypton Digital Assets v. Blockchain Luxembourg SA & others [2021] EWHC 3194 (Ch) (cryptocurrency exchange/platform); MedImpact v. Dimensions Healthcare (pharmaceutical dispensary software: DIFC-LCIA arbitration and now winding up proceedings in the Cayman Islands); and a high-value shareholder dispute relating to the market-leading food delivery service in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (DIFC-LCIA arbitration).

In both his silk practice and sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court, Stephen increasingly handles disputes involving cryptocurrency and other digital property – for example, giving judgment in Wang v. Darby [2021] EWHC 3054 (Comm); [2022] Bus LR 121 which was the first contested hearing in this jurisdiction concerning trusts over cryptocurrency.

Career

2021 Admission to the Bar of the British Virgin Islands

2021  Full registration as a foreign lawyer in the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC)

2020 Admission to Grand Court of the Cayman Islands

2019 Registration as a foreign lawyer in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC)

2013 Appointed Queen’s Counsel

2006 Appointed Junior Counsel to the Crown (‘B’ Panel)

1998 Attorney at Walkers, Cayman Islands (2 months)

1997 Joined Essex Court Chambers

1995 Lecturer in Public & Administrative Law, Hertford College, Oxford University (until 2000)

1995 Called to the Bar (Inner Temple)

Education

1995 Inns of Court School of Law

1994 Bachelor of Civil Law (First Class), Oxford University

1992 BA Jurisprudence (First Class), Oxford University

Awards

1994 Major Scholarship, Inner Temple

1992 Martin Wronker Prize (joint), Oxford University

1990 College Scholarship, Hertford College