John de Waal QC specialises in chancery and commercial work with a particular focus on property law and property-related professional negligence.
He is regularly instructed in complex property-related litigation in the Chancery Division and the Court of Appeal. In 2015 John appeared in the Supreme Court in Cavendish v Makdessi  AC 1172, the decision that is now the leading case on the law of penalties. The directories say that he has a “Razor-sharp legal mind which is alive to the practical application of legal analysis” and "an exceptional knowledge of the law and an excellent ability to provide clear, concise advice."
John has a very busy professional negligence practice acting for both claimants and defendants. His advocacy has been described as "…effective and persuasive, even under extreme fire."
He has been described as "an excellent specialist to call upon for complicated high stakes matter that require the attention and skill of a QC."
John is the editor of the title “Risk and Negligence in Property Transactions” published by the Law Society in October 2018. The 2nd edition will be published in 2022.
John was a recent winner of Real Estate, Environment and Planning Silk of the Year at the Legal 500 Awards.
John particularly enjoys working as a mediator and has acted as lead mediator in over 100 cases. For more information about John’s mediation experience please view his mediation profile.
Areas of expertise
- Commercial landlord & tenant
Commercial landlord & tenant
John’s practice is principally concerned with commercial property. He advises and acts for landlord and tenants in cases involving break clauses, dilapidations, contested assignments, lease renewals and forfeiture. John also advises and acts on agricultural tenancies.
- Kivells Ltd v Torridge D.C.  EWHC 2846 (TCC): agreement for lease, wastewater treatment plant, estoppel and  EWHC 3210 (TCC)  Costs LR 1987: Part 36 offers, indemnity costs
- Acting for major retailer in relation to allegations of breach of covenant in lease of retail premises
- Acting for tenant of commercial premises in connection with break clause/dilapidations claim where the issues is material compliance with covenants in the lease
- Acting for landlord in major dilapidations claim in dispute about novation of tenancy agreement
- Advising in relation to rent reduction clauses and the law of penalties
- Advising investor on issues arising on sale of a portfolio of shopping centres
- Acting on expert determination on sale of a portfolio of licensed premises
- Acting for a farm partnership in arbitration about valuation of deceased partner’s share
- Development & planning
Development & planning
John acts for developers in relation to issues that arise on site assembly, the exercise of options and pre-emption agreements, overage and land promotion agreements. He has a particular expertise in rights to light and party wall disputes.
John has contributed the Chapter on ‘Conditional Contracts, Options and Overage’ to the book he has edited for the Law Society “Risk and Negligence in Property Transactions”.
- Acting for landowner in dispute with developer over interpretation of overage agreement in a dispute worth £20m
- Acting for landowner on lease and rights to light on development adjacent to the East London Mosque
- Advising seller in relation to issues arising on sale of £64m development property
- Acting for developer of the Rolls Building on an appeal from an Award under the Party Wall Act
- Acting in dispute about rights of way and other easements between developers of neighbouring £75m properties in South Kensington
- Instructed on the first case for an access order under the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992 to reach the High Court
- Acted on claim by institutional investor for £9m in respect of defective cladding
- Acting for residential estate owners in relation to declaration that roads on estate are not adopted so can be closed to the public
- Real property & mortgages
Real property & mortgages
Property law is at the heart of John’s practice. His clients are principally developers and owners of commercial property. John also works extensively for defective title insurers and professional indemnity insurers.
His cases tend to concern options, covenants, easements (in particular rights to light) as well as rentcharges and cases concerning the beneficial ownership of land.
- Pennistone Holdings v Rock Ferry Waterfront Trust  EWCA Civ 1029: overriding interests; escheat
- Cavendish v Makdessi  AC 1172: parking charges; penalty clauses; unfair terms
- De Law Cuona v Big Apple Marketing Ltd  EWHC 3782 (Ch): lease; easement to park
- Sands v Singh  EWHC 636 (Ch): bankruptcy; matrimonial settlement; transaction at an undervalue; sham charges
- Cantelmi v Hart  UKUT 35 (TCC): registered boundary
- Acting for landowners in Looe, Cornwall whose properties have been damaged by landslips
- Acting for developer in relation to claim to mineral rights
- Leasehold & leasehold management
Leasehold & leasehold management
John is experienced in dealing with long lease issues such as enfranchisement, service charge disputes, forfeiture, breach of covenant and right to manage. He is presently advising a number of clients about issues arising from unsafe cladding on tower blocks.
- Spielplatz Ltd v Pearson  2 P&CR 17, CA: status of occupiers of a chalet built on a plot of land in a naturist resort
- Murphy v Wyatt  1 WLR 2129, CA: caravan sites; application of Mobile Homes Act 1983
- Haralambous v Anders  EWHC 2676 (QB): forfeiture; adequacy of s.146 notice
- Advising developer about liability to replace cladding on tower blocks
- Advising in relation to professional negligence claim arising out of defective notice in enfranchisement proceedings
- Advising in relation to rights to light as between tenants and landlord in residential block
- Commercial landlord & tenant
- Professional liability
- Property Professionals
John’s property expertise means that he is a natural choice for professional negligence disputes where the defendants are surveyors or other property professionals.
His expertise in relation to claims against legal professionals can be found at the Professional Liability – Legal Professionals section of his profile.
- Acting for claimant in £6m claim against surveyor in relation to negligence in claim for compensation for land compulsorily purchased for London Olympics
- Acting for defendant managing agents sued for failing to organise repairs to new-build block of flats in Battersea
- Acting for insurers of surveyor in relation to claim for negligence arising out of a rent review
- Acting for farm business agents in claim arising out of disputed succession to tenancy of an agricultural holding
- Acting for claimant in claim against building inspector for negligence in connection with survey of a development site
- Acting in claim against architect for negligence in connection with planning application for redevelopment of an 18th century pavilion at Hampton Court Palace
- Legal professionals
John has a particular expertise in property-related professional negligence disputes where the defendants are solicitors or barristers. He is the editor of “Risk and Negligence in Property Transactions” published by the Law Society in September 2018.
His expertise in relation to other property professionals can be found at the Professional Liability – Property Professionals section of his profile.
- Acting for an investment fund in substantial professional negligence claim following lease of disused church land on disadvantageous terms
- Acting for caravan site owner in £13m professional negligence action against firm of solicitors following negligent planning advice
- Blakemores LDP v Scott  EWCA Civ 999: s14A Limitation Act 1980; summary judgment
- Acting for defendant solicitor in 40 linked cases where deposits paid to a UK agent for apartments in a Spanish property development lost on developer’s insolvency
- Acting for claimant in claim against barrister for negligent advice in relation to planning permission for redevelopment of site
- Acting for claimant in claim against two firms of solicitors for negligence in connection with advice given on leases and pre-emption agreements in relation to prime central London property
- Acting for claimant against former solicitors in £5m claim relation to defective drafting of overage clause
- Property Professionals
- Professional indemnity insurance
Professional indemnity insurance
John regularly advises and acts for insurers in relation to policy and coverage issues, particularly in the field of professional indemnity insurance. He also advises and acts on liability issues where he is a specialist in defending claims against solicitors, surveyors and other professionals arising out of property and planning related matters.
- Collins v Thanet D.C.  EWHC 1008 (QB): local planning authority; misfeasance in public office
- Appointed by agreement between two PI insurers to advise in relation to coverage and which policy year the claim was notified
- Advising and acting for solicitor in arbitration with insurer in relation to allegation of dishonesty
- Acting for PI insurers in 40 linked cases arising out of loss of deposit paid to UK agents for apartments in development in Spain
- Acting for PI insurers in £2m claim where the allegation is negligence in connection with the drafting and negotiation of an option agreement
- Acting for PI insurers for managing agents sued for failing to organise repairs to new build block of flats in Battersea
- Civil fraud & asset tracing
Civil fraud & asset tracing
Following his involvement up to the House of Lords in the leading case on economic torts OBG v Allan, John has developed a particular expertise in claims arising out of civil fraud – in particular cases involving the misappropriation of trust funds, diversion of business opportunities, misuse of confidential information and breach of fiduciary duty.
- R v Evans  1 WLR 2817 and  1 WLR 3526: mining leases; restoration obligations; transfers at an undervalue
- OBG v Allan  1 AC 1, HL: property development company; tort of interference with contractual relations
- Advising in Bahamas case about breach of trust and diversion of business opportunity in hotel and leisure development
- Acting for Receivers appointed by the SFO in connection with tracing the beneficial interest of convicted criminal in property
John is recommended in Chambers UK and Legal 500 both for property litigation and professional negligence. He is also recommended by Legal 500 as a mediator and as real estate and also professional negligence silk by the Who’s Who Legal. He is described as:
- ‘He is a very good team player with the solicitors and enjoys a very good rapport with clients. John is able to convey complex argument simply and eloquently, both in writing and in advocacy.’ (Legal 500)
- ‘He provides excellent, sharp and issue-focused advice.’ (Legal 500)
- “Very much a team player, responsive and good to deal with. He picks up good points and gives clear commercial advice.” (Chambers UK)
- “He is very commercial, gives realistic assessments of chances and is good on tactics.” “He is approachable and gets right into the detail.” (Chambers UK)
- “He gets to the point immediately and deals very adeptly with the client, even if they are unfamiliar with the area of law. It’s a really pleasant and a thoroughly modern approach.” “He has expert knowledge of the law and an authoritative air, and gives you an answer rather than a range of options.” (Chambers UK)
- “Razor-sharp legal mind which is alive to the practical application of the legal analysis.” (Chambers UK)
- “He has an exceptional knowledge of the law and an excellent ability to provide clear, concise advice.” (Legal 500)
- “He is effective and persuasive, even under extreme fire.” (Chambers UK)
- “Puts a lot of thought into strategy and is very easy to work with.” (Legal 500)
- “…provides good clear advice at the outset. He can deal with difficult clients and understands the drivers behind the decisions made by insurers.” (Legal 500)
- “Ruthlessly commercial, client-focused and supportive.” (Chambers UK)
- “His calm, self-assured manner instils confidence in clients.” (Legal 500)
- “An excellent specialist to call upon for complicated high stakes matter that require the attention and skill of a QC.”
- “He gives very good advice and has very good knowledge of case law that assists in complex technical matters.”
- “John is not afraid of sitting on the fence and will consider novel strategies to progress to resolution. He is a tenacious advocate.”
- British Insurance Law Association
- Property Bar Association
- Professional Negligence Bar Association
- Risk & Negligence in Property Transactions (The Law Society) – 2nd edition to be published in 2022.
- Risk & Negligence in Property Transactions (The Law Society) – 1st edition published in 2018.
- Contributor to Paul Reed QC’s Construction All Risks Insurance, Sweet & Maxwell, 2014.