There are two things about Nicholas that might surprise you. He doesn’t like the sound of his own voice and, at university, he didn’t enjoy studying the areas of law in which he now specialises. But both illuminate why Nicholas – a natural-born problem solver and Penang Island IoT pioneer – is so effective as an advocate and so helpful in his advice. He gets to the point.
“The kind of barrister we want to put in front of clients”
Clearly and concisely. Two watchwords for how Nicholas communicates, whether in court or in writing. As an instructing solicitor says, “he gets to grips with really complicated factual matrices, turning them into comprehensible and straightforward scenarios.”
Nicholas also understands how stressful court can be for clients. He sees his role as trying to remove some of that stress. Clients appreciate his calm, confident and reassuring approach. How he takes the lead in facing down whatever they’re up against. It’s a reason he’s well suited to direct access work.
And having cut his teeth in the family courts, Nicholas is particularly adept at handling those commercial and property disputes where emotions are running high. He has a knack for getting people to focus on what’s best for their business, not fixate on personal grievances.
Advice that’s accessible to all
Nicholas recognises his advice may be read by various people. A client’s senior figures probably won’t have a lot of time and won’t want to read an academic essay that meanders through the law. So he starts his opinions with an executive summary, giving clients advice they can understand and act upon quickly.
Nicholas also realises solicitors don’t want to spend hours deciphering counsel’s opinion and translating it for clients. Especially if that opinion stays firmly on the fence. He answers the questions he’s been asked, gives clients a clear steer and makes sure no nasty surprises land in your inbox.
If he disagrees with advice that’s previously been given, Nicholas takes the time to understand how his instructing solicitors came to their view. He’s diplomatic and tries his best to help solicitors avoid awkward conversations with their clients.
“Really, really dependable”
For two years, Nicholas worked for a large commercial law firm in Malaysia. He also spent time, under a Pegasus Scholarship, with Rajah & Tann in Singapore. Those experiences gave him an acute understanding of the pressures solicitors face and the many matters they have on the go. That’s why, for standard instructions, Nicholas makes a point of turning written work around within 7 days.
And he will pull out all the stops when time is tight. For example, in July 2022, Nicholas received urgent instructions to draft a defence to a seven-figure claim. On a Saturday. By Monday morning his solicitor had a defence ready to file before the hearing of an application for default judgment the next day.
What Nicholas will never do is overcommit. If he’s too busy, he won’t rush a job. He’ll turn work down.
Described by an instructing solicitor as “a go-to for commercial work and arbitration”, Nicholas is currently involved in several LCIA and CIETAC arbitrations worth up to £5 million.
He holds a Diploma in International Arbitration and is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.
He is also frequently instructed to advise experts in expert determinations, which demonstrates the high regard in which his advice is held.
While Nicholas might not describe himself as in love with the academic side of the law, that’s not to say he couldn’t write a book on it. In fact, he has. He played a critical role in writing and updating a substantial text on Malaysian arbitration – the second edition of Subdra Rajoo’s Law, Practice and Procedure of Arbitration.
- Opposing an application to set aside an order arising out of an award in a matrimonial finance arbitration (X v X  9 WLUK 530).
- An SIAC arbitration between Indian and Singaporean parties where the defence was illegality under Indian law/public policy.
- A High Court appeal on the interplay between the stay provisions of the Arbitration Act 1996 and insolvency proceedings.
- Advising on the prospects of challenging a rent review arbitration award under section 68 and the process for challenging an award under section 70(3).
- Assisting with an application for the ad hoc admission to the Singaporean Bar of foreign senior counsel. The context was an application to set aside an arbitration award in a power plant construction claim worth over US$500 million (Re Landau, Toby Thomas QC  SGHC 258).
Nicholas is frequently instructed in banking cases, particularly in disputes centred on loan agreements. These include disputes about the validity and enforceability of loan agreements, the liability of guarantors, unfair relationships under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and disputes as to whether the CCA applies at all.
He also deals with cases involving a bank’s Quincecare duty where consumer and corporate customers have been victims of fraud, as well as claims for possession of properties to enforce secured loans.
An eye for detail
The benefit of being a multidisciplinary practitioner is it can be easier to see the bigger picture. A good example of this is a case where Nicholas’s client, a local authority, had a very old contract with a charity that provided some leisure services on a large plot of land (Stratford on Avon DC v The Hannah Susan Greig Memorial Company).
More recently, Nicholas’s client had given the charity a six-figure grant but the relationship was breaking down. The local authority wanted to know if there was any way to recover the money.
Nicholas spotted in the grant agreement that the termination of the leisure services contract constituted an event of default. He then realised that permissible circumstances for terminating the leisure services contract had actually arisen. This allowed the local authority to commence proceedings and acquire the land and leisure centre.
Other representative cases
- A claim for possession of property on which a bridging loan of £6 million to a husband and wife was secured. The husband had died. His widow defended the claim on the basis of undue influence (Walden Finance v Saunders).
- Advising a company in a £1.4 million claim against both the lender and the negligent valuer the lender had instructed.
- Advising on whether a company in liquidation had rights of subrogation for money used by its director to repay bridging loans secured against the director’s home.
“A go-to for commercial work”
Nicholas has a broad commercial practice, ranging from breaches of contract to shareholder disputes. He has particular expertise of injunctive relief and resultant committal applications and is fast becoming ‘Mr Freezing Injunction’.
His work frequently involves company disputes, including section 994 unfair prejudice petitions, equitable winding up, disputes about shareholder agreements, and breaches of fiduciary duties.
Here are some notable cases.
Trade mark and passing off jurisdiction
EasyJet doesn’t fly in Bangladesh; nor does it transport shrimp. But that didn’t stop it trying to sue a Bangladeshi domestic cargo airline in Easygroup Ltd v Easy Fly Express Ltd  EWHC 3155 (Ch). Led by Ajmalul Hossain KC, Nicholas represented the cargo company in a trade mark and passing off claim.
Specialist IP solicitors had advised against contesting jurisdiction. Yet, despite this being an area in which Nicholas did not routinely practise, he and his leader were confident it was worth doing.
That confidence was justified. Not only did they succeed in opposing the jurisdiction of the High Court but they saw off an application for permission to appeal.
Domain name transfer committal
In Juul Labs, Inc & Anor v Quick Juul Ltd & Ors  EWHC 1281 (Ch), Nicholas represented the defendant in committal proceedings arising out of a breach of a mandatory injunction to transfer a domain name. Giving judgment, Mr Justice Mann commented that the defendant had been “ably represented” by Nicholas.
Keeping procedural plates spinning
Nicholas acted in a complicated and heated £250,000 company dispute involving i) a petition to wind up the company on the just and equitable ground due to deadline, ii) a section 994 unfair prejudice petition by minority shareholders, and iii) separately, an alleged breach of a shareholder’s agreement to issue shares.
With so many different procedural balls to juggle and monstrously pedantic and obstructive solicitors to deal with on the other side, Nicholas and his instructing solicitors worked closely together as a team.
FIA president election
Working as part of an international team based around the world, Nicholas recently assisted in advising on the electoral process for the president of the FIA, the governing body of motor sport.
Stopping fraud winning the day
Can a company rely on its own fraud to defeat a winding up petition? That was the novel issue Nicholas grappled with in a case in 2022 (Eurodiet Health Ltd v Southend Point Ltd).
The defence to a £175,000 debt for commercial rent arrears was put on the outrageous basis that the company’s lease was a sham agreement and part of a joint scheme to defraud banks by tricking them into lending money into a non-existent “thriving business”. Somewhat surprisingly, Nicholas was the first to label this as fraud. This led the court to consider the exercise of its inherent discretion to wind up a company being used as an instrument of fraud.
At home with international clients
That was an unusual case. But it’s a good example of Nicholas’s ability to work well with solicitors or clients from different jurisdictions. Having experienced a move to Malaysia during the pandemic, Nicholas knows how to manage working across different time zones.
Standing up to pressure
Far less unusual is for Nicholas to be instructed in cases where statutory demands or winding-up petitions are being exploited as debt-collection instruments to pressure clients into paying disputed debts.
Navigating the unconventional
Nicholas is also practical when dealing with clients whose financial affairs are “complicated”. In one such case from 2022, he successfully appealed a bankruptcy order made against a director of a controversial managed service company.
Other recent highlights
- Nicholas is frequently instructed by trustees in bankruptcy to obtain possession orders over family homes. These cases are often challenging because the bankrupt person’s occupying spouse will claim to hold the entire beneficial interest in the property. An example from 2021 was Re Anthony. Nicholas displayed his knack for managing trustee expectations while being firm with overly sympathetic judges.
- An application by a debtor to set aside a statutory demand on the basis of speculation over COVID-19 legislation (Re Emma Hope) – see the Landlord & Tenant tab below for more on this case.
Landlord & Tenant
For commercial leases, Nicholas often deals with lease renewals, breaches of covenant and break notice disputes.
On the residential side, his work typically involves claims for possession and forfeiture; disputes about leasehold covenants, such as alterations; and service charges and Section 20 consultations and dispensations.
Here are a few highlights from his recent work.
Establishing an important principle
How many rent repayment orders can be made for any 12-month period? Just one – even if there are multiple offences.
That was the important principle established in an appeal against an FTT decision awarding residential tenants £30,000 through 12-month rent repayment orders. The tenants sought an extra £34,000 due to multiple offences. Instructed just 8 days before the hearing, Nicholas successfully resisted their appeal (Ficcara v James  UKUT 38 (LC)).
Bringing multidisciplinary experience to bear
In another recent matter (JN&S v Emma Hope) – a £300,000 commercial forfeiture case – every piece of COVID-19 legislation appeared to benefit a commercial tenant who decided to stop paying the £8,000 pcm rent on her Notting Hill property. Attempts to gain possession were hampered by the tenant’s constant applications.
But this was a case where Nicholas’s experience of insolvency proceedings made a difference and, ultimately, a bankruptcy order brought the case to an end in 2022.
Standing up for elderly clients
2022 also saw Nicholas defend a claim brought by a disgruntled commercial tenant whose shop lease had been forfeited after his failure to pay rent (Mahmud v Tugendhaft). The tenant sued for over £100,000 in stock and a new lease.
Nicholas demolished the claim in cross-examination and established that the store was largely full of scrap. He also brought much-needed reassurance and leadership to his elderly clients, who thanked him for how calm and confident he was throughout.
Licences and long leases
During a trial in 2022, Nicholas defended a £250,000 claim brought by the Wellington Pub Company. The dispute concerned a licence agreement for a pub that contained an obligation to enter into a long lease, shortly before COVID-19 hit.
The landlord claimed arrears of rent and sought an order that Nicholas’s client enter into the long lease, despite the evidence they couldn’t afford to do so and wouldn’t be able to trade. During the trial, Nicholas was able to elicit from the claimant an admission that the claim for specific performance was motivated to make his client bankrupt.
Nicholas’s real property work focuses heavily on sale and purchase disputes. He also deals with issues between neighbours, such as boundary and easement disputes, as well as disputes over beneficial interests in property.
Here are a few highlights from his recent work.
Prosecuting a stale contempt
Can committal proceedings be brought for a breach that occurred six years earlier?
Nicholas’s client was the victim of a fraudulent private investigator. In 2013, she sued and obtained an injunction prohibiting him from selling a house. He sold the property in 2014 but Nicholas’s client only realised this in 2020.
Despite the breach having taken place so many years before, Nicholas succeeded in obtaining a committal order.
Imagine how upsetting it would be to hear your former partner allege your relationship was only ever a friendship. Worse, it was irrelevant you had slept together and undergone IVF treatment. But that was the case Nicholas’s client had to meet in a cohabitation dispute last year.
The couple had bought a £400,000 property in joint names and lived together for many years. Yet, it was alleged Nicholas’s client only had a 25% share of the property. That argument was roundly rejected, with the court finding the parties each had a 50% interest.
Nicholas also succeeded in defeating the appeal against that finding.
Vehicular access turns violent
When the temperature of a dispute rises, it can be difficult to get a client to focus on the legal issues rather than the ins and outs of who started an argument. That’s made even more challenging when a dispute escalates into harassment and threats of violence, as happened in a case Nicholas dealt with in 2022 (Hirani v Sarnier).
A heated dispute between a tyre yard and a printing factory over a shared vehicular right of way escalated to threats of murder and a substantial fire in the printing factory. This was a legally complex case involving claims of easements, rights to drive and park, adverse possession, nuisance, trespass and harassment.
- “Nick has established himself as a go-to for commercial work and arbitration. He gets to the point and gets to grips with really complicated factual matrices, turning them into comprehensible and straightforward scenarios. He has a great commercial grasp and he is the kind of barrister we want to put in front of clients. Really, really dependable.”
- “We appreciate the very prompt, highly professional and commercial way in which you dealt with the issues.”
- “Thank you kindly for your assistance and treating the matter with the delicacy that it deserved. I doubt that any settlement would have been reached if you were not present.”
- “My father and I want to convey our utmost gratitude for your work and professionalism. It has been a really hard year and we couldn’t have asked for a better ending.”
- “Just wanted to say thanks for your assistance today. The world of Precedent H/R and cost budgets was completely new to me but you made it accessible at short notice.”
- Special contributor to Datuk Professor Subdra Rajoo’s Law, Practice and Procedure of Arbitration (2016, 2nd Edition)
- “Stop that Bitcoin!” in New Law Journal (9 September 2022), pp.9–10 – An easy-to-understand guide to obtaining injunctive relief against cryptoassets.
Diploma in International Arbitration, Malaysian Institute of Arbitrators, Kuala Lumpur
Law LLB (Hons), University of Manchester
- Chartered Institute of Arbitrators
- International Bar Association
- London Common Law & Commercial Bar Association
- Society of Construction Law
Nicholas sits as a chairman of the Valuation Tribunal for England & Wales hearing appeals on Non-Domestic Rates and Council Tax decisions.
BSB & VAT Information
Registered Name: Nicholas William Thomas Towers
VAT Number: 206809020