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Duncan McCombe

Call 2012

dmccombe@maitlandchambers.com

Duncan appears regularly in his own right in the County Court and in the High Court. In addition, he has been led on a number of larger matters, particularly in the areas of Commercial Law and Civil Fraud.

Duncan has acted as sole Counsel in a number of trials in the County Court and High Court. Most recently, this has involved two multi-day trials against QCs. One involved serious accusations of conspiracy and undue influence, the other was a dispute concerning alleged misrepresentations in relation to a share purchase agreement. Duncan's client was successful in both actions. Duncan has also appeared unled in urgent injunction applications in the High Court and the County Court, both for applicants and respondents. Unled applications in the High Court include successfully applying to the Commercial Court for a without notice freezing injunction against a BVI company in support of an arbitration, and appearing for the successful respondent in an application in the Chancery Division to set aside an interim injunction obtained without notice. Duncan has also represented and advised, as sole counsel, a number of high-profile media clients including the BBC and the Spice Girls.

Notable cases in which Duncan has been involved include the Supreme Court appeal of FHR European Ventures LLP v Cedar Capital Partners LLC [2014] UKSC 45, now the leading case on bribes and secret commissions taken in breach of fiduciary duty, and an appeal to the Privy Council from the BVI (Smith v Molyneaux [2016] UKPC 35) concerning adverse possession. He has also appeared in LCIA arbitrations involving a real estate development in Ukraine and a shareholder dispute concerning the Russian social network VK.com. The latter not only involved an arbitration in London, but also proceedings in the BVI and New York, settling for a cash sum of $1.47 billion. Duncan’s most recent instructions include a case in the High Court concerning a phosphate mine in Guinea-Bissau which involved accusations of bribery and the initiation of contempt proceedings (GBM Minerals Engineering Consultants Ltd GB Minerals Holdings Ltd [2015] EWHC 2954 (TCC) and GB Minerals Holdings Ltd Short [2015] EWHC 1387 (TCC)) and advising an investor in relation to a potential investment treaty claim.

Duncan read Chinese at St John’s College, Cambridge. He has worked on a number of China-related cases and regularly works with untranslated Chinese documents.

Duncan is also an elected member of the Bar Council. He is Chair of the Young Bar and also sits on the Bar Council’s Brexit Working Group. As part of his membership of the latter, Duncan co-authored the Jurisdiction and Judgments section and assisted with the Arbitration section of the, extremely well-received, Brexit Papers. The Jurisdiction and Judgments Brexit Paper was one of only two papers cited by the UK Government in its position paper on the subject.

Recent and notable cases

Commercial (please also see arbitration experience below):

  • Wood v Sureterm Direct Ltd [2017] UKSC 24: Duncan was involved in the issues arising following  the Supreme Court’s judgment in this case, which is the latest word from the Supreme Court on contractual interpretation.
  • GBM Minerals Engineering Consultants Ltd v GB Minerals Holdings Ltd [2015] EWHC 2954 (TCC) and GB Minerals Holdings Ltd v Short [2015] EWHC 1387 (TCC): Claim in the High Court (TCC) involving allegations of breach of contract, negligence and bribery as well as the initiation of contempt proceedings.
  • HRH Prince Mohammed Al Saud v Back Talent Ltd: Duncan represented (as sole counsel) an English company in a shareholder dispute brought by a Saudi Prince.
  • Nomad International Shipping Corp v DST Shipping Group SA: Claim in the Commercial Court arising out of a series of joint venture agreements concerning the ownership of a number of ships. The case involved an urgent application for interim injunctive relief with complex jurisdictional and arbitration issues.
  • Trant v (1) Commerx Ltd (2) Kulhawy: Claim in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court concerning payments under a Share Purchase Agreement. Duncan represented the successful Claimant against Defendants represented by a silk.

Chancery:

  • FHR European Ventures LLP v Cedar Capital Partners LLC [2014] UKSC 45: Appeal in the Supreme Court, now the leading case on proprietary remedies and constructive trusts for bribes and secret commissions taken in breach of fiduciary duty. A webinar on the case which Duncan gave for the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners can be viewed by clicking here.
  • Choudhury v Stepney Shahjalal Mosque and Cultural Centre Ltd [2015] EWHC 743 (Ch): Appeared unled for the respondent to a without notice injunction application in the Chancery Division concerning the management of a charity. Duncan successfully obtained an order staying the proceedings and discharging the injunction. He also successfully resisted a further application to the Court for permission to bring Charity Proceedings under s.115 Charities Act 2011.
  • Advised a well-known private bank’s trustee business in proceedings for an account brought by a beneficiary.
  • Duncan has spent two months on secondment to a firm in Jersey working on a high-profile and high-value trusts dispute involving allegations of trustee negligence.

Arbitration:

  • Advising and drafting proceedings on behalf of an investor in relation to a potential investment treaty claim.
  • Representing a Mexican state-owned company in the Commercial Court seeking to set aside an arbitration award on the basis that it had no capacity under Mexican law to enter into the arbitration agreement.
  • Ad hoc-arbitration involving claims and counterclaims worth hundreds of millions pounds involving issues of breach of contract, fraud and defamation. This case also involved the analysis of a large number of untranslated documents in Chinese.
  • Representing Chinese clients in an ad hoc arbitration concerning the proposed purchase of a large residential property in London. This included successfully applying (unled) to the Commercial Court for a freezing injunction against a BVI company in aid of the arbitration.
  • LCIA arbitration concerning a shareholder dispute in relation to a joint venture established for the purposes of a real estate development in Eastern Ukraine.
  • LCIA arbitration in relation to the shareholder dispute concerning the Russian social network VK.com. This not only involved an arbitration in London, but also proceedings in the BVI and New York, settling for a cash sum of $1.47 billion.
  • Duncan has also taught at a course on International Arbitration organised by the Bar Council and CIETAC at Renmin University in Beijing.

Property:

  • Smith Molyneaux [2016] UKPC 35: Duncan assisted the successful appellant in this appeal to the Privy Council from the BVI concerning adverse possession.
  • TCG Pubs Ltd v The Master and Wardens or Governors of the Art or Mystery of the Girdlers of London [2017] EWHC 772 (Ch): Claim involving the interpretation of an assignment provision in a lease. The case also involved seeking the permission of the Court to bring forfeiture proceedings against a company in administration.
  • Skelwith (Leisure) Ltd v Armstrong [2015] Ch. 345: represented the purchaser from a mortgagee of a golf course in Yorkshire. The case involved complex questions as to the exercise of a mortgagee’s power of sale and resulted in a successful application to strike out the claim.
  • Representing Chinese clients in an ad hoc arbitration concerning the proposed purchase of a large residential property in London. This included successfully applying (unled) to the Commercial Court for a freezing injunction against a BVI company in aid of the arbitration.
  • LCIA arbitration concerning a shareholder dispute in relation to a joint venture established for the purposes of a real estate development in Eastern Ukraine.
  • Ellis v Mussett and Others: Duncan represented the successful Defendant in this action concerning the sale of a property. The claim involved allegations of undue influence and conspiracy and the Claimant was represented by a silk.
  • Duncan also regularly represents clients in landlord and tenant matters in the County Court.

Insolvency:

  • Duncan regularly represents creditors, debtors and office holders in the County Court and High Court in both corporate and individual insolvency-related matters.
  • High profile matters include appearing for the petitioning creditors in the bankruptcy proceedings of Craig Whyte, the former owner of Rangers Football Club.

Education and Qualifications

MA (Cantab) Oriental Studies (Chinese)
GDL (Distinction)
BPTC (Very Competent)

Duncan read Chinese at St John’s College, Cambridge. His studies included a year abroad in Beijing studying at China’s most prestigious university for the study of the arts, Peking University, as well as two months at Taiwan Normal University in Taipei on a scholarship from the Taiwanese government.

After graduating from Cambridge, Duncan studied for the Graduate Diploma in Law at City University in London gaining the grade of distinction after coming third in the year overall and top of the year in equity and trusts. During that year he also won the Lincoln’s Inn mooting competition. He obtained a number of scholarships for his legal studies including Lord Haldane, Hardwicke and Lord Denning scholarships from Lincoln’s Inn and the McMahon Law Studentship from St John’s College, Cambridge.

Languages

Chinese, French, German

Publications

Journal of International Banking and Finance Law (March 2015): The safety of mankind”: the civil consequences of bribery

Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments section of the Bar Council's Brexit Papers.

Memberships

COMBAR
Chancery Bar Association
Young International Arbitration Group
International Chamber of Commerce Young Arbitrators Forum
Financial Services Law Association 
Inter Pacific Bar Association