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James Bickford Smith



James is a commercial barrister also sought out for the most challenging employment law claims and for crossover work (bonus disputes, restrictive covenant cases, team moves, LLP matters). He has over the last twelve months acted in cases proceeding in the Chancery and Queen’s Bench Divisions of the High Court (including the Commercial Court and the Companies Court), in LCIA Arbitration, in County Courts, and in the Employment Appeal Tribunal. He is listed as a leading barrister in Chambers & Partners and described as: "Sensible, pragmatic and very pleasant to deal with…” and "He is praised for his grasp of legal principles, with numerous interviewees commenting on his standout academic strength. His practice is diverse and takes in an array of High Court work”.  

James has unusually extensive advocacy experience for a barrister of his call and often acts as sole counsel against more senior opponents, including silks. He is equally at home acting as part of large litigation teams led by silks and senior juniors. 

Repeat clients include City, US, West End, Regional and specialist law firms. Within those firms James works regularly with arbitration, (commercial) dispute resolution, banking and finance, employment, and insolvency departments. James has also had a notably broad range of lay clients, a strong view that he learns something from each of them, and an equally strong determination to afford each of their problems equal importance. Corporate clients have included FTSE 100 companies, US, UAE, Cayman, Japanese, Icelandic, Italian and Spanish corporations, small and mid-cap businesses, and not for profit companies. Individuals successfully represented have ranged from senior City executives to airport cleaners. 

James joined Littleton after obtaining a Double First and Doctorate from Oxford University, where he worked as a College Lecturer. He was a Lord Haldane and Lord Mansfield scholar of Lincoln’s Inn and won a Buchanan Award for his performance in Bar Finals.

Sample recent cases (for more details of recent work see tabs below):

Commercial, banking and finance

  • Sole counsel in a series of high profile claims against RBS (reported in The Financial Times, The Times and on the BBC); James is also acting in many swaps disputes;
  • Junior counsel in a High Court Freezing Injunction following discovery of an unlawful means conspiracy, leading to substantial asset recovery (led by David Reade QC).
  • English-law counsel in related series of investor claims arising out of the operation and restructuring of offshore investment vehicles.
Crossover work, High Court Employment, LLP
  • Sole counsel for a successful Applicant in a Chancery Division injunction concerning the departure of a senior employee and the copying of a client database; among James’ High Court matters in 2014 he led for the defendants in a case involving patent, design right, copyright and database claims and was junior counsel for the First Defendant in the Marathon litigation;
  • Junior counsel for the Claimant in the High Court team move case of JM Scully Ltd v Minett and others. The case began with Search Orders following which over 15, 000 documents were recovered;
  • Acting in partnership, LLP and shareholder disputes, both led and unled. Within the LLP field James handles both classic chancery matters (eg unfair prejudice and fiduciary duty cases) and ones with more of an employment favour (eg member expulsions, status disputes).
Employment (statutory)
  • Sole counsel in Tribunal claims involving substantial reputational and other risks for Respondents, including eg for mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust following the dismissal of a nurse for an alleged patient assault (result: nil award); for an airline pilot accused of having sexually assaulted a fellow employee after a crew "night out” outside the UK (result: struck out at a PHR); for a trades union whose general secretary was accused of bullying (result: struck out at a PHR);
  • Acting for Claimants at differing levels of seniority in a range of City employment disputes; 
  • Sole counsel in Dumol, Naitta & ors v Aircraft Services International Group (1), Gate Aviation Ltd (2), Performa Elan Singapore Pte Ltd (3), successfully establishing a TUPE Transfer following a 4-day PHR concerning closure of Heathrow Terminal 2.


James has broad experience of commercial work gained first at a magic circle commercial set and then at Littleton. He has a busy practice, being regularly used by a range of solicitors including City firms and sole practitioners either as sole advocate or adviser or as part of larger litigation teams. He has undertaken a secondment in a well-known banking and finance litigation team. Current or recent instructions include:

  • Sole counsel for SJ Berwin in successful High Court enforcement action concerning a debt owed to the firm by related Iraqi and BVI companies;
  • Junior counsel in a high profile ownership dispute about a George Cross (listed for a five day trial in QBD);
  • Junior counsel in High Court application for a search and seizure order against multiple parties (see further injunctions tab);
  • Advising on directors’ and shareholders’ disputes and unfair prejudice petitions;
  • A range of county court matters on multi and fast tracks.

 Past experience has seen James draft advices, notes, or pleadings in respect of claims which have proceeded to judgment in the High Court and/or Court of Appeal in each of the following fields: insurance; reinsurance; aviation; civil fraud; retail banking; investment banking; professional negligence; general commercial. In all his work James aims to provide clients with prompt, straightforward and commercially realistic advice based on meticulous research.


James has a broad employment practice focused on trial work, with experience of bringing or responding to claims of: unfair dismissal, race, sex, age and disability discrimination, unlawful deductions, breach of contract, lay-off redundancy, part-time worker discrimination, unjustifiable discipline (TULR(C)A), breaches of the WTR, and automatically unfair dismissal following protected disclosure or TUPE transfer.

Respondent clients have included small businesses, limited, public limited and multinational companies, public sector bodies, community organisations, a Trades Union, and charities. James enjoys learning about his client’s businesses or activities and considers it essential to do so. He is now increasingly instructed at an early stage to handle highly-charged or problematic cases for corporate and other clients he has represented in earlier Tribunal proceedings.

Claimant clients have come from all walks of life, and James has secured a number of high value settlements or awards. He is also careful to establish early what non-financial outcome if any a client seeks and then to work towards achieving this; when cases fight, however, James is known for his resilience and effectiveness as a trial advocate. After gaining much trial experience in Tribunals the length and breadth of the country he is now primarily briefed in highly charged or legally complex cases against better resourced Respondents.

    Banking and Finance Litigation

James has been involved in banking and finance litigation ever since beginning pupillage a few weeks after the failure of Lehman Brothers. He sat successively with barristers acting in the Bank Charges Litigation in the Court of Appeal and House of Lords, in PPI Litigation, in other retail banking disputes (breach of mandate, fraud) and in investment banking disputes. He later undertook a secondment with a well-known lender-focused banking and finance litigation team. He has subsequently developed a substantial banking practice of his own at Littleton acting for bank customers and counterparties in High Court actions or FCA/FOS matters. A significant number of his cases have been high profile or high value or both. Recent instructions include:
  • Actions arising out of the conduct of RBS’ GRG unit; James has acted for companies, administrators, shareholders and directors of companies put into GRG;
  • Actions involving West Register;
  • Actions arising out of banks breaching terms of pre-credit crunch loan agreements, notably in the property sector;
  • Interest rate swap cases for both individuals and businesses, both involving the FSA scheme and High Court litigation; 
  • Chargeholder disputes;
  • Guarantee and other security disputes.


Cases as sole counsel include:
  • Wells v 1) MRGB Realisations Ltd (In Administration) 2) Langley Holdings PLC 3) Manroland Sheetfed (UK) Ltd: Acted for R1’s administrators in high value unfair dismissal claim with follow-on civil claim. Issues of assignment and scope of decision in Spaceright. Held: R1 not liable for dismissal.
  • Dumol, Naitta & ors v Aircraft Services International Group (1), Gate Aviation Ltd (2), Performa Elan Singapore Pte Ltd (3): 4-day PHR concerning closure of Heathrow Terminal 2. Over twenty different airlines involved. Issues of fragmentation, whether "client” requires legal personality, correct legal test for when services fundamentally different.
  • Barnes & or v Milsteda Systems: acted for C1 in claim brought against transferee only. C employed by payroll company. R argued that Tribunal not entitled to pierce corporate veil. Transfer upheld following legal submissions at PHR. Case settled on Day 3 of Full Merits Hearing in course of cross-examination of R’s witnesses on ETO/redundancy pool issues.
  • X & ors v B Ltd & J Ltd: acted for C9. Cs employed as delivery drivers by freight forwarding company which lost nationwide delivery contract. Main issue: whether organised grouping of employees assigned to contract. Case settled on Day 2 of PHR.
  • F v H Council and X Police Force: scope of administrative transfer exception to TUPE, construction and effect of policing agreement between Police Force and Council.
  • R v S Ltd (High Court): transfer of enhanced redundancy rights under TUPE 1981.

    Injunctions & High Court Employment Claims

James is familiar with, and thrives on, bringing or resisting injunctive relief applications arising out of employment relationships. He is regularly instructed by both commercial and employment litigation departments:
  • As a junior supporting a leader in cases of substantial complexity and scope;
  • As sole counsel ready to defend his clients’ interests in the face of better resourced parties.
As to the former, James worked for some nine months (led by Andrew Stafford QC and Jeffrey Bacon) as junior in the team move case of JM Scully Ltd v Minett and others, which included claims of: unlawful means conspiracy; breach of implied and express contractual terms; breach of fiduciary duty; inducement of breach of contract; unlawful interference; breach of equitable and contractual duties of confidence. James was involved in the case from the first draft of witness statements in support of the initial injunction application to the drafting of the settlement agreement on the eve of a ten day High Court trial. As to the latter, within the last twelve months James has acted as:
  • Sole counsel for all Defendants to a team move case. The case settled after the interlocutory application was dismissed.
  • Sole counsel for Defendant in Chancery Division damages action arising out of alleged breach of implied terms and equitable duties.
  • Sole counsel for Respondent to Restrictive Covenant/Confidential Information injunction application. Two hearings. Application dismissed on indemnity cost basis.
  • Sole counsel advising on a range of putative applications and damages claims.

    Insolvency & Employment Law

James is well-recognised for his work in the crossover area where insolvency and employment law meet. By way of professional recognition, James has been invited to deliver training to the Employment Lawyers Association on "Insolvency for Employment Lawyers” and to write on Employment Law/TUPE for R3. He is frequently the first port of call for insolvency lawyers seeking quick guidance on employment law issues, or employment lawyers seeking quick guidance on insolvency law. He has developed close relationships with leading Insolvency Practitioners and is often involved on a licensed access basis pre-appointment at the stage teams are assembled.

Given the time-critical nature of many decisions in this area James works collaboratively with a small group of other barristers to ensure that any specialist question can be answered rapidly if he is himself otherwise committed, and vice versa. Urgent queries should be emailed to James in the first instance and copied to clerks@littletonchambers.co.uk. 

James is always happy to discuss restructuring options at an early stage pre-appointment and generally recommends that employment law input be sought as early as possible.

    Personal Background

  • BA (Balliol College, Oxford): Double First
  • Frazer Scholar of Balliol College and James Gay Prize for History
  • University of Oxford Carlyle Scholar in the History of Post-Classical Political Thought (1999-2003)
  • Arts and Humanities Research Board Competitions A & B Winner (1999-2004)
  • Doctorant Etranger at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (LSH)
  • D. Phil (Oxon) (also completed Master of Studies)
  • College Lecturer in History at St Hugh’s College, Oxford
  • Lincoln’s Inn: Lord Haldane CPE Scholarship; Lord Mansfield major BVC Award; Buchanan Prize for performance in Bar Finals; Sir Robert Megarry pupillage award
James's examiners recommended his doctorate on the history of Normandy in the eleventh century for publication by Oxford University Press and he continues to prepare this for publication when time allows. In July 2011 he presented a paper to the 34th Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman Studies in York. He has also delivered papers and taught in French.

Other interests include travel, art, and Italian cooking.