Fenners Chambers | 3 Madingley Road | Cambridge | Cambridgeshire CB3 0EE | United Kingdom

Fenners Chambers | 3 Madingley Road | Cambridge | Cambridgeshire CB3 0EE | United Kingdom.

Fenners Chambers | 3 Madingley Road | Cambridge | Cambridgeshire CB3 0EE | United Kingdom.

Liam Varnam
Called to the Bar in 2007

 

Liam practises exclusively in civil law, with an emphasis on property, employment, commercial, and probate matters. He is currently recommended by the Legal 500 as a leading barrister in both property law and employment law, being described as ‘a great advocate with outstanding technical ability’ and as ‘an excellent advocate who is professional yet very down to earth, with a practical approach’.

In 2021, he was appointed as a Deputy District Judge, sitting in county courts on the South Eastern Circuit, and as a fee-paid Employment Judge, sitting in employment tribunals in the Midlands (East) region.

AREAS OF PRACTICE

  • Commercial
  • Employment
  • Probate & Inheritance
  • Property

AREAS OF PRACTICE

  • Property: a variety of commercial and residential landlord and tenant disputes; trusts of land cases; land law disputes including easements and boundaries; leasehold enfranchisement; agricultural holdings.
  • Employment: Advocacy, drafting, and advisory work in respect of employment tribunal disputes, including in the EAT. Particular, experience of unfair dismissal; discrimination cases; contractual claims, TUPE; whistleblowing; employee status disputes; maternity claims; wages; and holiday pay issues.
  • Commercial: Contractual disputes; construction disputes; debt recovery; claims based on economic torts, on mistake and misrepresentation, on bailment, and for money had and received; equitable remedies; unjust enrichment claims; sale of goods/supply of goods and services; personal and corporate insolvency; company law; cases turning on limitation points.
  • Probate and Inheritance: Advocacy, drafting, and advice across the whole range of probate work, including contentious probate, Inheritance Act claims, trusts claims, and actions relating to the administration of estates.

For more detailed guides to Liam’s work, please click on one of the practice areas listed above.

HIS WORK

Liam’s practice takes him across East Anglia, London, the East Midlands, and beyond, representing clients in a variety of courts and tribunals. Besides appearing in court, Liam drafts pleadings and advises both in conference and in writing. He is primarily instructed by solicitors, but also accepts selected direct access instructions when he has capacity.

RECENT APPELLATE/REPORTED CASES

  • Metropolitan Housing Trust Ltd v TM [2021] EWCA Civ 1890; [2022] HLR 16; [2021] WLR(D) 639 (Court of Appeal): Second appeal in a housing case turning on a public sector equality duty defence to a possession claim by a social landlord (led by Andrew Lane).
  • Lunat v Lunat [2020] EWHC 1128 (QB) (High Court, Queen’s Bench Division): Trusts of land – constructive trust/proprietary estoppel, and consideration of case law on the credibility of witnesses.
  • TM v Metropolitan Housing Trust Ltd [2020] EWHC 311 (QB) (High Court, Queen’s Bench Division): Housing case – appeal addressing the public sector equality duty and discrimination arising from disability, both advanced as defences to a possession claim by a social landlord.
  • Hossaini v EDS Recruitment Ltd [2020] ICR 491 (Employment Appeal Tribunal): Appeal from an employment tribunal’s judgment on a race and religious discrimination claim, and a consequential costs order – particular issues on appeal were the admissibility of fresh evidence on appeal, and the application of the without prejudice rule when costs were considered.
  • Hamilton v Solomon & Wu Ltd (2018) UKEAT/0126/18 (Employment Appeal Tribunal): The correct approach to an alleged unfair dismissal for raising health and safety concerns, contrary to section 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
  • Choudhry v Luton Borough Council [2017] EWHC 960 (Ch); [2017] BPIR 1150; [2017] RVR 208 (High Court, Chancery Division): Appeal against a bankruptcy order arising from disputed council tax liability orders.

Commercial law has been a significant part of Liam’s practice since he joined Fenners Chambers. Liam appears in interlocutory and final hearings in the High Court and on the fast and multi-tracks in the county court. He also advises in writing and conference and settles pleadings.

Areas of Practice

  • Contractual disputes
  • Debt recovery
  • Professional negligence, particularly solicitor’s negligence claims
  • Sale of goods/supply of goods and services
  • Construction disputes
  • Personal and corporate insolvency
  • Company law
  • Claims based on economic torts, on mistake and misrepresentation, on bailment, and for money had and received
  • Equitable remedies; for example, claims based on constructive, resulting, and Quistclose trusts
  • Unjust enrichment claims
  • Cases turning on limitation points

His work

Liam is principally instructed by solicitors, but accepts direct access instructions when he has capacity to do so. Besides appearing in court most days, he drafts pleadings and advises both in conference and in writing. 

Representative Cases

 General commercial

  • Acting for the Claimant in ongoing proceedings alleging fraudulent misrepresentation against company directors, in respect of a peer-to-peer lending scheme.
  • Successful application to set aside the order of a Queen’s Bench Master (made several years earlier) granting permission to enforce a Lithuanian judgment in England, on the basis that the order was contrary to EU law.
  • Ongoing proceedings concerning a disputed debt arising from a loan, which have so far included a dispute as to whether England and Wales is the correct jurisdiction in which to bring the claim, and a counterclaim alleging unlawful harassment by the creditor.
  • Acting for a solicitor’s firm defending a claim for fees by a former consultant to the firm, and counterclaiming in respect of alleged overpayments to the consultant. The case settled following a lengthy mediation shortly before trial.

 

Professional Negligence

  • Acting for a Claimant in a solicitor’s negligence claim, in which it was alleged that the Defendant firm had failed to advise competently on the tax consequences of a property purchase. The claim settled on favourable terms.
  • Successfully acting for the Claimant in a solicitor’s negligence claim alleging a failure to competently advise on the terms of a settlement agreement, entered into on the termination of Liam’s client’s employment.
  • Successfully defending a solicitor’s negligence claim arising from the conduct of an employment tribunal claim.
  • Acting for a Claimant in a solicitor’s negligence claim alleging a negligent failure by conveyancers to identify the fact that the property being purchased was landlocked. The claim settled on favourable terms.

 

Sale/supply of goods

  • Successfully defending a claim concerning the export of goods from the UK to Lebanon, in which the Claimant alleged that Liam’s client had supplied goods which were unfit for the purpose of being sold in Lebanon.
  • Acting in proceedings under the Torts (Interference with Goods Act) 1977 for the hirer of high-value building equipment which had been detained on an incomplete building site. The equipment was recovered following an interim application under section 4 of the 1977 Act, and a consequential damages claim was settled on favourable terms.
  • Numerous proceedings involving the sale of motor vehicles; for example, concerning whether the vehicle was of satisfactory quality, or whether the vendor had good title to the vehicle. A current case involves an allegation that a combine harvester worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, leased by a farmer on a hire-purchase agreement, was of unsatisfactory quality and caused losses amounting to further hundreds of thousands.
  • Successfully acting in a dispute over the ownership of a prize-winning pedigree dog, in which the key question was whether a retention of title clause had been incorporated into the contract for sale of the dog.

Construction

  • Successfully acting for a builder in a claim for unpaid fees for redevelopment works to combined commercial/residential premises, in which the Defendants alleged that the works had been performed negligently.
  • Acting for a large-scale housebuilder, resisting ongoing proceedings alleging the negligent design and construction of a retaining wall.

Insolvency

  • Choudhry v Luton Borough Council [2017] EWHC 960 (Ch); [2017] BPIR 1150; [2017] RVR 208: An appeal to the High Court against the making of a bankruptcy order arising from a council tax liability order.
  • Acting for the respondent company in High Court proceedings for an administration order, including issues as to whether the applicant was genuinely a creditor of the respondent, and whether the court should order administration in circumstances where the respondent was balance sheet insolvent, but its debts were principally owed to its parent company, which was continuing to support it financially. The application was withdrawn prior to the final hearing.

Liam Varnam’s property practice focuses on three main areas. First, land law, including easements, boundary disputes, restrictive covenants, etc. Second, trusts of land/TOLATA cases. Third, landlord and tenant cases, where he deals with both commercial and residential tenancies, acting for both landlords and tenants. Liam is listed as leading counsel in property law (tier 1) in the 2022 edition of the Legal 500. He also hears a variety of property disputes in the county court, following his appointment as a Deputy District Judge in 2021.

Areas of Practice

  • Private landlord and tenant (commercial and residential), including possession claims, dilapidations, assignment of leases, forfeiture (and relief therefrom), and tenancy deposits
  • Trusts/TOLATA, particularly proprietary estoppel and constructive/resulting trust cases
  • Easements, including in particular rights of way and parking easements
  • Boundary disputes
  • Housing law, including in particular cases involving public law, Human Rights Act, and Equality Act defences
  • Trespass actions
  • Leasehold enfranchisement
  • Restrictive covenants
  • Agricultural holdings
  • Nuisance claims between neighbours
  • Adverse possession

His work

Liam appears in court, and advises in writing and in conference. He is primarily instructed by solicitors, but is also authorised to accept instructions directly from members of the public.

What others say

  • ‘An excellent advocate who is professional yet very down to earth, with a practical approach’ – Legal 500, 2022.
  • ‘Extremely knowledgeable in property matters, with an ability to quickly grasp key facts and information from documents…particularly adept at handling trusts of land cases, land law matters such as boundary disputes and easements, as well as commercial landlord-and-tenant disputes’ – Legal 500, 2021.

Recent Cases

Land law

  • Successfully acting in a right of way dispute, turning on the construction of a Deed executed in 1982, and on the evidence as to the use of the land in the decades preceding 1982. Liam’s client succeeded in establishing both a right of way over the neighbouring property, and a limited right to park on that property.
  • Representing a mortgagee in protracted possession and debt proceedings against a husband and wife, in which the wife alleged that the husband had forged her signature on the mortgage deed with the connivance of the mortgagee’s agent. The issues arising included forgery/fraud, alleged unfair relationship contrary to section 140A of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, and two separate applications to set aside judgment under CPR 39.3(5). In December 2020, following nearly four years of litigation and thirteen hearings, the dispute was finally resolved in favour of Liam’s client.
  • Successfully acting in the First-tier Tribunal (Land Registration) in a dispute concerning an application by Liam’s client to register land of which the respondent claimed ownership, involving arguments concerning the construction of the original conveyance, proprietary estoppel, and adverse possession.
  • Acting in long-running boundary dispute proceedings, in which most boundary markers had been removed in the 1970s, and the parties and their lawyers were left to piece together the former position of the boundary based on a broad array of evidence of variable reliability. The case involved extensive examination of documentary and photographic records, and conflicting expert evidence. It settled at a mediation one week before a lengthy trial.
  • Advising in respect of potential claims arising from apparent acts of trespass by a FTSE 100 housebuilder over a piece of land whose last identified owner (Liam’s clients’ ancestor) had died in the 1930s.

Trusts of land

  • Lunat v Lunat [2020] EWHC 1128 (QB): Trusts of land – constructive trust/proprietary estoppel, and consideration of case law on the credibility of witnesses.
  • Acting in High Court proceedings between the co-owners of a multi-million-pound plot of land in Birmingham, concerning the terms on which their co-ownership should be brought to an end.
  • Ongoing proceedings concerning a family farm, in which Liam’s client’s is resisting his son’s claim for an interest in the farm, allegedly arising from a proprietary estoppel.

Landlord & Tenant

  • Metropolitan Housing Trust Ltd v TM [2021] EWCA Civ 1890; [2022] HLR 16; [2021] WLR(D) 639: Liam appeared in the Court of Appeal (led by Andrew Lane), resisting a second appeal from a possession order made against a tenant with severe mental health problems. Before the Court of Appeal the case turned on questions connected with the public sector equality duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, and the Court gave guidance on this point, as well as addressing the ‘highly likely’ test under section 31(2A) of the Senior Courts Act 1981. Liam had previously acted as sole counsel at trial in the county court and on the first appeal to the High Court (TM v Metropolitan Housing Trust Ltd [2020] EWHC 311 (QB)), where a wider range of issues had been canvassed.
  • Successfully acting on behalf of a commercial landlord, seeking to recover over one million pounds in unpaid rent; the tenant’s unsuccessful defence raised numerous allegations of breach of the landlord’s repairing covenants.
  • Acting in the First-tier Tribunal (Residential Property) on behalf of a leaseholder, resisting the landlord’s claim for a declaration that she had breached the terms of her lease by building an unauthorised loft extension. Not only was the claim successfully resisted, but the landlord was (unusually in Residential Property) ordered to pay the costs of the proceedings, on the grounds that it had acted unreasonably in bringing the claim.
  • Advising the leaseholders of two large blocks of flats, in respect of their claim for collective enfranchisement under the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993.

Liam accepts instructions in all areas of probate and related chancery practice. Besides having a busy paperwork practice, he also appears in interlocutory hearings and trials on a regular basis. He is currently completing the Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS) associate membership course.

AREAS OF PRACTICE

  • Contentious probate; for example, questions as to the construction of wills; challenges to the validity of wills based on lack of testamentary capacity, want of knowledge and approval, undue influence, and fraud; cases arising from intestacy; claims against personal representatives, etc
  • Claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975
  • Claims based on proprietary estoppel and/or constructive trusts
  • Administration of estates, including the removal or substitution of personal representatives

HIS WORK

Liam accepts instructions directly from members of the public, as well as from solicitors. Besides appearing in court on an almost daily basis, he drafts pleadings and advises both in conference and in writing.

REPRESENTATIVE CASES

Advising in respect of a successful application to the Chancery Division for the removal and replacement of a personal representative, under section 50 of the Administration of Justice Act 1985.

Successfully representing an executor in a claim against a beneficiary for the repayment of an overpaid legacy.

Representing the Claimant (a former cohabitant) at an Inheritance Act FDR, negotiating a settlement of £200,000.

Advising on a regular basis on matters such as the formal or substantive validity of wills, the construction of wills, and Inheritance Act claims. One memorable recent Advice involved considering whether newly-appointed executors should bring proceedings against the former executor for wrongfully disposing of the deceased’s flock of racing pigeons!

Liam appears in the employment tribunal and EAT, in cases covering the whole breadth of employment practice, with expertise in all types of discrimination claim, as well as unfair dismissal and protected disclosure/whistleblowing claims. Liam is also particularly interested in cases lying at the intersection of employment and general contract law, and has recently acted for both employers and employees in a number of six-figure breach of contract claims. He acts in roughly equal measure for employers and employees.

Liam was appointed as a fee-paid employment judge (Midlands East region) in 2021 and is listed as leading counsel in employment law (tier one) in the 2022 edition of the Legal 500.

Areas of practice

  • Unfair and wrongful dismissal, including constructive dismissal and ‘automatically unfair’ dismissals
  • Discrimination claims, whether direct, indirect, victimisation, harassment, etc – covering sex, race, disability, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation, etc
  • TUPE
  • Protected disclosure (‘whistleblowing’) claims.
  • Disputes concerning employee status.
  • Unlawful deductions from wages
  • Contractual claims, including those alleging wrongful dismissal and/or non-payment of wages
  • Holiday pay claims, including claims for accrued holiday pay following HMRC v Stringer, and claims for rolled-over holiday pay following King v Sash Windows Workshop

His work

Liam appears in courts and tribunals, and advises in writing and in conference. He is mainly instructed by solicitors, but is also authorised to accept instructions directly from members of the public.

What others say

  • ‘A great advocate with outstanding technical ability’ – Legal 500, 2022
  • ‘Meticulous attention to detail, very thorough and very approachable’ – Legal 500, 2021

Representative Cases

  • Hossaini v EDS Recruitment Ltd & Another [2020] ICR 491: Successful appeal in a factually unusual race and religious discrimination claim involving the apparent doctoring of evidence and its effect on the substantive fairness of a first-instance judgment relying on that evidence, the admissibility of fresh evidence on appeal, and the application of the ‘without prejudice’ rule when costs are considered.
  • Hamilton v Solomon & Wu Ltd (2018) UKEAT/0126/18: The correct approach to an alleged unfair dismissal for raising health and safety concerns, contrary to section 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
  • Fox v Ocean City Recruitment Ltd [2011] All ER (D) 108 (Aug): Successful appeal concerning vicarious liability for sexual harassment, the statutory defence afforded (at that time) by section 41 of the Sex Discrimination Act, and the correct measure of damages in sex discrimination cases.
  • Successfully acting against a leading supermarket chain in an unfair dismissal and disability discrimination claim. Liam’s client had been dismissed following allegations of sexual harassment. The employer was found not have properly considered the impact of his disability on his conduct, and was also guilty of multiple procedural errors. The case was reported in the Daily Mail and in the specialist HR press.
  • Acting for an employer in an age discrimination claim in the employment tribunal and in respect of a threatened breach of contract claim in the High Court. Both claims arose from the termination of the Claimant’s contract without notice, in circumstances where the lack of notice had itself caused her to suffer six-figure pension loss. The claims settled at a twelve-hour mediation.
  • Representing a FTSE 100 company, successfully resisting claims of unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.
  • Successfully acting against the Home Office in an unfair dismissal claim, in which Liam’s client had been dismissed following long-term sickness absence.
  • Acting in a constructive dismissal claim for a former regional manager in a leading rail haulage firm. Responsibility for the main depot in his region was removed from Liam’s client, following trade union complaints (including the threat of unlawful industrial action) arising from his allegedly hardline management style. The unfair and wrongful dismissal claims succeeded, and Liam’s client subsequently settled his claim for a substantial sum.
  • Acting for an air ambulance doctor, in an unfair dismissal case turning on whether the doctor was an employee of the air ambulance.
  • Representing a multinational supermarket chain resisting a race discrimination and unfair dismissal claim, arising from alleged theft by the Claimant, and his consequent dismissal. The Claimant withdrew his claim midway through the evidence, which was increasingly showing that he was guilty of the thefts alleged.
  • Representing a teacher in a whistleblowing dismissal claim, in which Liam’s client alleged that he had been dismissed for exposing institutional cheating in coursework at a prominent boarding school. The case was extensively reported in the national press (for example, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Daily Mail).

 

QUALIFICATIONS

LLB (Hons), King’s College London

LLM by research, University of Reading

Deputy District Judge

Fee-paid Employment Judge

MEMBER

  • Employment Law Bar Association