Sets that are safe as houses
21 July 1998
At the Bar, there are probably less than 40 barristers who specialise in landlord and tenant law, and another 40 or so for whom it represents a substantial part of their practice.
There is no specific Bar association or Bar Council committee for them - those who act in this field are often found under headings such as the planning, or environmental Bar.
That the landlord and tenant Bar is difficult to pigeonhole is unsurprising. It is one of the broadest areas of work, often crossing many disciplines and types of client.
One day a barrister may be acting for a group of legally aided tenants against a local authority or ruthless private sector landlord in a Court of Appeal case, the next, for a pension fund in a rent dispute with a blue-chip corporate tenant in a major City office block.
One case may be taken on to satisfy the conscience, the other, the wallet, perhaps.
The emphasis on commercial matters in most types of landlord and tenant dispute has meant that the more experienced counsel in the field tend to practise at the chancery Bar. They also tend to handle a wide range of other types of commercial work.
There are two sets of chambers that stand out as clear leaders in the field. Of these, Falcon Chambers, headed jointly by the "absolutely top class" QCs Jonathan Gaunt and Kim Lewison, is the country's first choice for all types of landlord and tenant work.
"The core of the (landlord and tenant) work is contract," says Lewison, adding that the caseload will also refer to conveyancing, local government and administrative law, as well as tort, building contracts, and even professional negligence.
On the commercial side, work can have an international flavour too, where clients' home jurisdictions are based on English common law. "They may come from Hong Kong, Singapore and the Caribbean, because they still like to take advice from London," says Lewison.
The more general commercial sets often refer work to Falcon Chambers. "With landlord and tenant matters, we often send papers on to Falcon. The response we get from our clients is that they're first-rate," says a senior clerk at a top Gray's Inn set.
The next set, Arden Chambers, is a strong competitor in landlord and tenant but is unquestionably the strongest housing law set.
Both sets came out of King's Bench Walk. Falcon, for 25 years a specialist in landlord and tenant work, was known as 11 King's Bench Walk until eight years ago. Arden Chambers, meanwhile, only came into being in 1993 when the "extraordinary and charismatic" Andrew Arden QC led a breakaway of specialists from 6 King's Bench Walk.
Arden has been the leading pioneer of housing law since the 1970s, and is a prolific and respected author on the subject. Starting his career by acting for tenants and the homeless, he worked for a spell in a law centre and was a key figure in the Legal Action Group.
He became the main counsel for the Greater London Council and has built a major practice in acting for local authorities. Arden's set has doubled to 20 barristers in five years.
The wide-ranging practice has an emphasis on housing and landlord and tenant work.
In terms of high-value commercial litigation involving landlord and tenant work, the sets most frequently ranged against Falcon Chambers tend to be 4 Breams Buildings, headed by Christopher Lockhart-Mummery QC, and 9 Old Square, headed by deputy High Court judge Robert Reid QC.
Hazel Williamson QC of 13 Old Square, Michael Lyndon-Stanford QC's set, is often mentioned in the same breath as Lewison, Gaunt and Arden. A deputy judge in the High Court, Williamson also has a strong general commercial practice.
One of her recent cases involved a failed timeshare operation on the Isle of Man - a far cry from knockabout rent reviews.
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