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Joel Semakula

Call: 2017
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Practice Summary

Joel joined Chambers in 2020 following completion of pupillage during which he was supervised by Richard Turney, David Nicholls, Galina Ward, Simon Allison and Justin Bates. He accepts instructions on a direct access and pro bono basis in appropriate cases.

Prior to starting pupillage, Joel worked in the global litigation team of an oil major between 2018 and 2019. During that time, he advised on various matters including enforcement proceedings, bilateral investment treaty claims, environmental and decommissioning claims, JV disputes and general commercial disputes in various upstream and downstream oil and gas sectors.  He also gained experience in institutional arbitration under the LCIA, ICC and LMAA rules.

Following his legal studies, Joel was the Judicial Assistant to Lady Justice Gloster (as she then was) and Lord Justice David Richards at the Court of Appeal from 2017 to 2018 where he assisted on cases covering commercial, chancery, public and international law. He also prepared research for lectures on a range of legal topics including international arbitration, which was a key interest of Lady Justice Gloster.

Before commencing legal studies, Joel was an investment banker with Morgan Stanley in New York. He worked on a range of deals including M&A, leveraged buyouts, equity and debt offerings and recapitalisations for healthcare companies. Joel, therefore, brings a wealth of commercial experience to his practice at the Bar.

Away from the law, Joel can be found performing on a comedy stage or volunteering with initiatives that support social mobility.

Property / Rating

Joel was the designated Property pupil, having developed his property law experience at the Court of Appeal. He is developing a varied residential and commercial property practice and recent instructions include:

  • Acting for the successful local authority in the First-tier Tribunal Property Chamber (Land Registration) on an application to alter the register based on a mistake where the respondent had been registered as proprietor of its farmland on the basis of adverse possession.
  • Acting for the successful local authority in the High Court resisting an application for permission to judicially review a decision not to grant coronavirus grants and small business rates relief.
  • Acting for the successful landlord in the County Court in a claim for rent arrears and property damage and in defence of a counterclaim for breach of the Housing Act 2004 and breach of covenants.
  • Acting for a residential landlord to secure approx. £40,000 in service charge arrears.
  • Acting for a landlord seeking to secure an access injunction to a tenant property for the purpose of repairing property damage.
  • Acting for the successful tenant to resist a landlord’s application to strike out his Defence and Counterclaim for property damage, failure to protect the tenancy deposit and breach of covenant.
  • Advising a global energy company on recovery of approx. £3m overpaid rent in respect of its petrol station sites.
  • Providing advice and drafting on matters such as beneficial interests, alterations to the register, rent arrears, rectification of contracts of sale and leases, tenancy deposits, property damage, notices and restrictions, equality act defences to possession claims, securing access rights, restrictive covenants, rights of way, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, right of first refusal, 1954 Act renewals, structuring property transactions and the frustration of leases in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a pupil, he gained experience of a wide range of property and rating law issues including:

  • Advising landlords and tenants on a range of matters related to possession of residential and commercial premises.
  • Advising on rights of way, trespass, removal and replacement of trustees of land, charging orders, beneficial interests in land, proprietary estoppel, the right to park, interpretation of leases, implication of terms into leases and enforcement of landlord covenants.
  • Assisting with hearings, trials and appeals such as the Court of Appeal hearings in Fearn v Tate Gallery Board of Trustees concerning the application of private nuisance to overlooking and subsequent invasion of privacy concerns and Aviva v Williams concerning the proper construction of service charge provisions in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.
  • Drafting pleadings and pre-action letters in a variety of disputes concerning forfeiture, rights of way, the validity of equitable charges and boundary disputes.
  • Advising parties on their entitlement to empty rates relief in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commercial / Arbitration

Joel is developing a varied practice covering all aspects of commercial/arbitration law, having come to the Bar with significant commercial experience, including investment banking, in-house litigation within a major corporation and assisting leading commercial judges. Examples of his recent instructions include:

  • Appearing for the Claimant in the County Court in a preliminary hearing in an approx. £1m claim for damages for breach of contract related to the operation of a car boot sale business.
  • Acting for a professional recruitment company resisting an £11k claim brought by a potential recruit for breach of contract.
  • Acting for an events planner claiming significant damages in the County Court against a venue and caterer for breach of contract.
  • Advising a global energy company on recovery of approx. £3m overpaid rent in respect of its petrol station sites.
  • Advising a developer on the commercial and property law implications of adopting a particular structure for commercial property transactions.
  • Acting for a landlord seeking to recover rent arrears from a commercial tenant resisting the claim on the basis that its lease was discharged by frustration of common purpose by the coronavirus business closure regulations.

As a pupil, he gained experience of a wide range of commercial law cases including:

  • Advising on breach of contract where the breach concerned carrying out works to a listed building without listed building consent and in breach of the management agreement.
  • Advising on matters concerning insolvency, charging orders, misrepresentation, penalty clauses, breach of trust, freezing orders, valuation and specific performance.

As an in-house litigator, Joel worked on several multi-million-dollar arbitrations, including:

  • An LMAA arbitration concerning the cause of two explosions aboard a large commercial ship that caused the ship to be taken off hire and contaminated the cargo aboard.
  • Two related ICC arbitrations concerning indemnification under the French abrupt termination regime for losses/damages incurred following the decision to discontinue shipments of crude oil via a pipeline.
  • An ICC arbitration concerning the French interdependence regime and unlawful termination of a European Gas Transportation Agreement.

As a judicial assistant at the Court of Appeal, he worked on:

  • Ukraine v Law Debenture Trust Corp Plc [2018] EWCA Civ 2026 concerning a claim by the Russian Federation against Ukraine for the non-payment of $3 billion which Ukraine had borrowed under Eurobonds and dealt with issues such as capacity and authority, duress, implied terms, the foreign act of state doctrine and international law more broadly.
  • JSC BTA Bank v Ablyazov [2018] EWCA Civ 1176 on the proper determination of applications under s.423 of the Insolvency Act 1986.
  • Astor Management AG (formerly MRI Holdings AG) v Atalaya Mining Plc (formerly Emed Mining Public Ltd) [2018] EWCA Civ 2407 on the proper interpretation of an obligation to pay deferred consideration under an agreement to purchase an interest in a mine.
  • Computer Associates UK Ltd v Software Incubator Ltd [2018] EWCA Civ 518 which considered the important question as to whether a licence to use software supplied electronically and not on any tangible medium amounts to the “sale of goods” under the Commercial Agents (Council Directive) Regulations 1993 reg.2(1).
  • Hutchison 3G UK Limited v The Office of Communications & Others in which the Court of Appeal refused permission to Hutchison 3G to appeal against the judgment of Green J, which dismissed its claim for judicial review of Ofcom’s decision on the auction of 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz spectrum.

Planning / Infrastructure

Joel is developing a varied practice covering all aspects of planning, infrastructure and procurement law. Examples of his recent instructions, as both sole and junior counsel, include:

  • As sole counsel, acting for Rule 6 Party (local residents group) in a five-day planning inquiry, which was one of the first appeals to challenge a proposal for DMS housing where key issues were Rural Exception Sites and Very Special Circumstances for Green Belt development.
  • As sole counsel, acting for the successful Parish Council in the High Court to challenge the lawfulness of a Certificate of Lawful Existing Use or Development (“CLEUD”) for a motocross track in an AONB.
  • Acting for the successful Parish Council (led by Sasha Blackmore) to challenge a new housing development of 64 dwellings in a small village on the basis that it was outwith the resolution to grant.
  • Acting for the relevant highways authority and local transport authority (led by Richard Turney) on highways and compulsory acquisition issues related to the DCO of the Aquind Interconnector between France and England, including making oral representations before the Examining Authority.
  • Appointed as an independent investigator of complaints against a local planning authority.
  • Providing advice and drafting on matters such as deliberate concealment risk, certificates of lawful use and proposed development, heritage issues, EIA development, CIL, climate change, planning conditions and s.106 obligations.

Joel also regularly investigates corporate complaints on behalf of local authorities against planning departments.

As a pupil, he gained experience of and assisted with a wide range of planning matters, including:

  • Written advice on planning issues, such as inappropriate development in the green belt and AONB, listed building consent, conservation areas, habitats concerns, permitted development rights, compulsory purchase, five year housing land supply and costs in planning inquiries.
  • Preparing pleadings and skeleton arguments in s.284 challenges concerned with the proper interpretation of development plans.
  • Court hearings on planning matters including Finney v Welsh Ministers in the Court of Appeal concerning whether s.73 of the TCPA 1990 may be used to vary the terms of the operative part of a planning permission and various judicial review hearings including the Guildford Local Plan challenge and the Heathrow Airport expansion challenges in the Court of Appeal.
  • Planning inquiries such as the Clay Cross public inquiry, an inquiry into change of use of a plot from employment to residential for a 80+ housing development in Chesterfield and enforcement inquiries such as the Mercury House public inquiry which considered whether building unlawful operational development had the effect of extinguishing crystallised permitted development rights.
  • DCO examinations such as the public examination into Esso’s Southampton to London jet fuel pipeline.


Joel is developing a varied practice covering all aspects of environmental law and has already started taking on his own environmental cases. Examples of his recent instructions, as both sole and junior counsel, include:

  • As sole counsel, acting for the successful Parish Council to quash a Certificate of Lawful Existing Use or Development (“CLEUD”)for a motocross track in an AONB in the High Court on environmental grounds.
  • Advising (as a junior to Alex Goodman) on a potential claim in respect of a number of Experimental Traffic Orders made by a local council where carrying out the orders would lead to further breaches of NO2 legal limits and further exacerbate air quality concerns in the area.
  • Advising a global environmental charity on a potential challenge – including on climate change grounds – to the grant of planning permission for a new service station on a site proximate to a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation and a Conservation Area.

Joel regularly accepts pro bono instructions from the Environmental Law Foundation and is an author of Garner’s Environmental Law.

As a pupil, he gained experience of environmental law issues including:

  • Drafting an advice on the need for further environmental impact assessments following an application to vary an existing planning permission.
  • Drafting an advice in respect of a multi-party negligence claim against the Environment Agency on the scope of its duty of care when responding as a statutory consultee.
  • Assisting with court hearings on environmental matters such as Plan B v Heathrow Expansion in the Court of Appeal which was the first significant ruling in the world on the Paris Climate Agreement.

As an in-house litigator at an oil major, Joel advised on environmental and decommissioning claims.

Public / Inquiries

Joel is developing a varied public law practice and is a member of the Government’s ‘Junior Junior’ scheme. Examples of his recent instructions, as both sole and junior counsel, include:

  • Acting in oral permission renewal hearings in the High Court.
  • Acting for the successful Leader of the Opposition of a local authority in disciplinary proceedings and defending her right to free speech before the Standards Committee.
  • Acting for NHS Blood & Transplant (led by Charlie Cory-Wright QC), a core participant in the Infected Blood Inquiry.
  • Assisting with the Secretary of State’s appeal to the Supreme Court against Begum v Special Immigration Appeals Commission [2020] EWCA Civ 918 concerning deprivation of citizenship and leave to enter to participate in judicial proceedings.
  • Acting for the Claimant (led by Fiona Scolding QC), who has Autism Spectrum Disorder and learning disabilities, bringing a claim for damages flowing from breaches of Article 3, Article 5 and Article 8 of the ECHR and professional negligence in respect of his ill-treatment in hospital while detained under s.3 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
  • Acting for Highways England (led by Samantha Broadfoot QC) in related inquiries investigating deaths on smart motorways.
  • Assisting the Department of Health and Social Care with a review of legislation in preparation for a new Health and Social Care Bill.
  • Appointed as an independent investigator of complaints against a local authority’s planning department.
  • Appearing in the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chambers) in bail hearings for immigration detainees.
  • Drafting and advising on matters related to immigration.

As a pupil, he gained experience of a wide range of public law cases including:

  • Advising on issues such as the investigative obligation under Article 2 of Schedule 1 of the HRA 1998, Article 10 of the ECHR, just satisfaction under the ECHR, deprivation of liberty orders, habeas corpus, legitimate expectations, police pensions and immigration appeals including those concerning foreign national offenders.
  • Assisting with the preparation of hearings such as Court of Protection proceedings, judicial review proceedings concerning unlawful detention and planning matters and appeals against decisions of the Disclosure and Barring Service.
  • Drafting pleadings, skeleton arguments, position statements and urgent applications dealing with issues such as capacity, disability discrimination, DBS barring, legal aid eligibility and ECHR interim measures.

As a judicial assistant at the Court of Appeal, Joel worked on:

  • (Uber London Ltd) v Transport for London [2018] EWCA Civ 1213 which considered the proportionality of the voice contact requirement imposed on the operators of London private hire vehicles under the Private Hire Vehicles (London) (Operators’ Licences) Regulations 2000 reg. 9(11).


As a school governor, Joel also has a particular interest in education law. Examples of his recent instructions include:

  • Appearing in the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) in EHCP appeals.
  • Acting as a clerk in school exclusions appeal panels.
  • Acting for the Good Law Project and students who had been downgraded from the Centre Assessment Grade (led by Fiona Scolding QC with Leon Glenister and Yaaser Vanderman) to challenge the fairness of Ofqual’s system for awarding A level grades.
  • Acting for UsforThem (led by James Maurici QC with Yaaser Vanderman) to challenge government guidance to schools around dealing with COVID outbreaks.
  • Providing training to local authorities on admissions and exclusions appeals.
  • Drafting and advising on matters related to local authorities duties under the Children and Families Act 2014 in respect of children with special educational needs.


Joel hopes to develop a varied costs practice. His recent instructions include:

  • Advising on settlement and using set off to resist a costs application following the discontinuance of property proceedings.


University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – BA Political Science and Economics (First Class)

University of Oxford  (Mansfield College) – BA Jurisprudence (with Senior Status)

BPP University, London – BPTC (Outstanding)


University of Oxford: D’Souza Prize for the highest mark on the Senior Status course

Gray’s Inn: The Bedingfield Scholarship, the Inn’s most prestigious award for the BPTC

Gray’s Inn: David Karmel Entrance Award, the Inn’s highest award for the GDL

Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholarship

Morehead-Cain Scholarship, full merit scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Fulbright Scholarship

Professional Associations

Administrative Law Bar Association

Chancery Bar Association

Court of Protection Bar Association

Property Bar Association


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