Keir Howie

Keir Howie

Call: 2010

"One of the best juniors currently working at the commercial bar"

Legal 500 2022

Practice Profile

Keir maintains a wide-ranging practice in commercial litigation and arbitration. He has particular expertise in civil fraud, insurance and reinsurance, shipping and international trade, and all aspects of private international law. He is frequently instructed in cases involving allegations of dishonesty, corruption and other serious misconduct.

Keir is ranked by both Chambers UK and Legal 500 for his work in civil fraud, insurance and general commercial litigation. He has been described in the directories as “one of the best juniors currently working at the commercial bar”, “a star of the junior bar”, and “ahead of any other junior of similar call”. He was also shortlisted for insurance junior of the year at the Chambers UK Bar Awards in 2020.

Keir has substantial experience of large-scale disputes, and he is familiar with the unique demands of heavy trials in which very large sums are at stake. He has acted in several of the most high-profile commercial cases of recent years: prominent examples include Brillante Virtuoso (marine insurance fraud), Republic of Djibouti v Boreh (alleged corruption relating to infrastructure projects in Africa) and Excalibur v Gulf Keystone (dispute over oil and gas exploration rights in Iraqi Kurdistan). Each of these disputes involved claims in excess of US$100 million and trials lasting for several months, and all attracted significant media interest.

Notable current and recent instructions include:

  • SKAT v Solo Capital and others: acting for one of the defendants in a fraud claim by the Danish revenue authorities, valued at more than £1 billion.
  • Maroil Trading v Cally Shipholdings and others: substantial claim involving allegations of breach of confidence.
  • TKC v Allianz: successful strike out of a claim under a business interruption insurance policy arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Equitas v MMI: test case on the spiking of employers’ liability reinsurance claims, which settled when on appeal to the Supreme Court.

Keir has a first class degree in Japanese from the University of Leeds and a masters degree in Japanese literature from the School of Oriental and African Studies, in both cases coming top of his year group. He read law at the University of Oxford, obtaining a first class degree and coming fourth in the year. He joined 7KBW in 2011 following the completion of pupillage in chambers.

If you are interested in instructing Keir, please contact our clerks to discuss the requirements of the case and his availability.

Keir is often instructed in cases involving civil fraud and dishonesty, including extremely heavy and complex commercial frauds with an international element. He also has considerable experience of freezing injunctions and related interim relief.

Selected cases:

  • SKAT v Solo Capital Partners and others: acting for one of the defendants in large-scale proceedings brought by the Danish revenue authorities, claiming sums in excess of £1 billion for alleged withholding tax fraud. The claim was dismissed following the hearing of preliminary issues (reported at [2021] 1 WLR 4237) and is currently on appeal.
  • Brillante Virtuoso: a US$100 million claim involving allegations that a shipowner deliberately set his own vessel on fire by staging a piracy attack, in order to claim the proceeds of a war risks insurance. Keir acted as junior counsel for insurers at the 10-week trial, led by Jonathan Gaisman QC, Richard Waller QC and Nichola Warrender. The fraud allegations succeeded and the claim was dismissed: [2019] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 485.
  • Republic of Djibouti & others v Boreh & others: a major fraud claim against the former head of a port project in the Horn of Africa, who was accused of earning bribes and secret profits by abuse of his position. Keir was part of the defence team which secured the discharge of a worldwide freezing order by proving that the claimants’ solicitor had deliberately misled the court (reported at [2015] 3 All ER 577), and then appeared at the heavy and factually complex ten-week trial, following which the claims were dismissed in their entirety. Led by Dominic Kendrick QC and Richard Waller QC.
  • Orb a.r.l. & others v Ruhan: acted for the defendant in a £250 million Commercial Court claim involving allegations of dishonesty in connection with the sale and redevelopment of a hotel portfolio. Led by Jonathan Gaisman QC and Richard Waller QC.
  • Simetra Global Assets v Ikon Finance: settled pleadings in a claim concerning the misappropriation of money in an alleged Ponzi scheme. Led by Clive Freedman QC and Jo Higgs.
  • Gamondi v Alemagna: a case before the Antiguan courts concerning a judgment in a ship sale dispute which was alleged to have been procured through the use of falsified evidence. With David Bailey QC, Keir prepared a strike-out application which successfully disposed of the claim.

Insurance and reinsurance work is one of the mainstays of Keir’s practice. He acts and advises in a wide range of cases in this field, both marine and non-marine, in litigation and in domestic and international arbitrations.

Selected cases:

  • Brillante Virtuoso: a claim in excess of US$100 million under a marine war risks policy, in which the principal defence was that the vessel was scuttled by means of a staged piracy attack. Keir acted for war risks insurers, led by Jonathan Gaisman QC, Richard Waller QC and Nichola Warrender. The claim was dismissed following a 10-week trial: [2019] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 485.
  • Equitas v Municipal Mutual Insurance: a test case concerning the spiking of employers’ liability reinsurance claims arising from exposure to asbestos, raising important questions about the scope of an insurer’s duty of good faith. Keir acted for reinsurers, led by Colin Edelman QC. Reinsurers were successful in the Court of Appeal (reported at [2020] QB 418) and the case settled shortly before it was due to be heard by the Supreme Court.
  • TKC v Allianz: litigation under a business interruption policy arising from the closure of a hospitality business during the coronavirus pandemic, raising novel questions as to whether damage-based cover can respond to loss of use. Keir acted for the insurer and successfully obtained summary dismissal of the claim: [2020] 1 Lloyd’s Rep IR 631. Led by Gavin Kealey QC.
  • Acting as sole counsel in a £2.3m property insurance claim arising from a fire at a warehouse in Manchester.
  • Advised as sole counsel in various Bermuda Form disputes, including as to the attachment point of cover and the treatment of expected or intended losses.
  • Acted for marine hull insurers in relation to the total loss of a luxury sailing yacht. Led by Richard Waller QC.
  • Arbitration under a policy of trade credit insurance. Led by David Edwards QC.
  • Arbitration involving a substantial claim under a solicitor’s professional indemnity policy. Led by David Edwards QC.
  • Reinsurance arbitration concerning asbestos liabilities and the scope of the standard London market ultimate net loss clause. Led by Christopher Butcher QC.
  • LCIA arbitration under a policy of war, terrorism and political violence reinsurance, in relation to the civil unrest in Thailand in 2010. Led by Michael Crane QC.
  • LCIA arbitration concerning the construction of a bankers’ blanket bond. Led by Gavin Kealey QC.
  • Acting and advising as sole counsel in many different classes of business, including medical, life, motor, employers’ liability, directors’ and officers’ liability, trade credit, construction all risks, and marine hull insurance.

In addition to his specific expertise in fields such as civil fraud, insurance and shipping, Keir acts in general commercial disputes across all sectors.

Selected cases:

  • Maroil Trading v Cally Shipholdings and others: substantial claim involving allegations of breach of confidence. Led by David Allen QC.
  • Multi-million dollar LCIA arbitration involving allegations of expropriation against a sovereign state. Led by Richard Waller QC.
  • Advised in relation to the contractual bonus entitlement of a highly paid chief executive. Led by Christopher Butcher QC.
  • Advised regarding the correct interpretation of property tax legislation in the Bahamas. Instructed as sole counsel.
  • Advised, settled pleadings, and represented the defendant as sole counsel at a successful mediation in claims under the Commercial Agents Regulations.
  • Successfully obtained an injunction against the Bank of Scotland to prevent the disposal of a valuable motor yacht, in support of substantive proceedings for conversion. Led by Stephen Phillips QC.
  • Considerable experience of seeking and resisting security for costs (including acting in some of the largest security applications heard by the Commercial Court, and obtaining novel orders for security for the costs of detailed assessment proceedings).

Keir acts and advises in a range of shipping and transport cases, frequently as sole counsel. Much of his work in this field is resolved in confidential arbitration, including on LMAA terms.

Selected cases:

  • Arbitration involving allegations of breach of a long-term contract of affreightment, and claims for deadfreight. Led by Dominic Kendrick QC.
  • Acted in a substantial arbitration dispute over unpaid hire in the long-term charter of an FPSO, and successfully secured an interim award for approximately US$50 million. Led by Dominic Kendrick QC.
  • Acted as sole counsel in a claim relating to stowage problems and unsafe port allegations.
  • Advised and acted as sole counsel in various time and voyage charterparty matters, including laytime and demurrage disputes, off hire, deductions from hire, stevedore damage, speed and performance claims, striking out for want of prosecution, and disputes over the identity of parties to a charterparty.
  • Advised and settled pleadings in a dispute under the CMR involving the theft of cargo.

Keir has experience of large-scale litigation and arbitration in the upstream and midstream oil and gas industry. He has particular knowledge both of the technical expert issues which arise in such disputes, and of the commercial and political context in the Middle East.

Selected cases:

  • Excalibur Ventures LLC v Texas Keystone & others: acted for the claimant in a five-month trial concerning oil exploration rights in Iraqi Kurdistan. The case was factually complex and engaged a wide range of expert issues, including upstream oil industry practice, investment banking, discounted cash flow modelling and both New York and Kurdish law. Led by Simon Picken QC, Tim Kenefick and Jessica Sutherland.
  • Acted for the defendant in a major arbitration claim relating to alleged interference with rights concerning gas fields in the Middle East. The case involved issues of loss of a chance, causation and scope of duty, as well as detailed political, technical, and economic analysis of the prospects for the relevant national and international energy sector and the global market. Led by Jonathan Gaisman QC, James Brocklebank and Sandra Healy.
  • “Keir is classy, unruffled and courteous.” “He is responsive and clear.” “He is extremely hard-working, gives excellent, pragmatic advice on both legal and strategic issues and is able to distil complex issues of law into straightforward language. His written work is first-class.” “A deeply impressive barrister who is incredibly user-friendly and patient and phenomenally intelligent.” “His drafting is above anyone else at his level and he’s clear in his opinions. Clients are always impressed with his advice and manner.” Chambers & Partners 2022
  • “Hugely intelligent and easy to work with. His drafting skills put him ahead of any other junior of similar call” – Legal 500 2022
  • “One of the best juniors currently working at the commercial bar. Fiercely intelligent and an excellent, creative problem solver” – Legal 500 2022
  • “Extraordinary ability to digest and analyse acres of material (whether factual, technical or legal) and his written product is simply first rate” – Legal 500 2022
  • “He is mature beyond his years, has a powerful intellect and is an impressive drafter” – Chambers UK 2021
  • “He is unflappable; you can present him with a problem at short notice and he will give you a solution” – Chambers UK 2021
  • “His drafting is above all other juniors of his call – he is simply superb. A delight to work with, hardworking, practical and mature beyond his years” – Legal 500 2021
  • “An outstanding barrister, he is thorough, pragmatic, incisive and has a tremendous work ethic” – Legal 500 2021
  • “A phenomenally intelligent barrister … He is very good at coming up with solutions to technical issues … He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the law” – Chambers UK 2020
  • “His opinions are well thought out and of the highest academic standard” – Chambers UK 2020
  • “A star of the junior Bar” – Legal 500 2020
  • “An impressive junior with sound judgement” – Legal 500 2020
  • Commercial Bar Association; London Common Law and Commercial Bar Association; London Shipping Law Centre; British Insurance Law Association; Commercial Fraud Lawyers’ Association.

  • BA in Japanese and Asia Pacific Studies (first class, top in year, distinction in spoken Japanese) – University of Leeds, 2006

    MA in Japanese Literature (distinction, top in year) – SOAS, 2007

    BA in Jurisprudence (first class, 4th in year) – Lincoln College, University of Oxford, 2009

    Bar Vocational Course (outstanding) – BPP London, 2010

    Scholarships and prizes

    Crabtree Prize (2003, 2005)

    Japanese Ministry of Education Scholarship (2004)

    Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society Award (2006)

    Don Rimmington Prize (2006)

    Gluckstein Scholarship (2008)

    Queen Mother Scholarship (2009)

    Baron Dr Ver Heyden de Lancey Prize (2010)


    Japanese (both spoken and written).