James Puzey

Introduction

A leading practitioner with over 30 years’ experience, James is one of most highly sought-after barristers in the fields of health and safety issues, inquests, environmental enforcement and tax. Across this unique mix of specialisms, James remains one of the most highly ranked practitioners in the country – by both legal directories (Band 1, Chambers & Partners, 2021; Tier 1, Legal 500, 2021) and is instructed by some of the most noted and high-profile public and private organisations in the UK, for their most complex issues.. He is a ‘go to’ barrister for the Health and Safety Executive, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), various local authorities and leading private businesses.

Clients and instructing solicitors regularly comment that James is ‘truly excellent’, that his ability to ‘miss nothing and be on top of everything’ is invaluable and that his ‘commitment to hard work’ coupled with his ‘extremely dependable’ nature means that they turn to him time and again. Given his leading status, profile and experience, James’s current practice almost exclusively concerns cases of the utmost complexity, consequence and severity. Over recent years, James has been in particularly high demand for cases involving significant reputational risks, where there is a risk to the public at large or where novel or precedent-setting issues are considered, whether in health and safety, inquests, environmental or tax law.

James’ practice is tri-jurisdictional and, as may be properly expected, James is a highly experienced appellate advocate. He is frequently instructed on judicial review matters, as well as cases in the Court of Appeal.

James has a rare double accreditation when it comes to work in his specialist areas. He was appointed as a member of the Attorney-General’s Panel of Prosecution Advocates in 1998 and has been an “A” panel member of its successor, the List of Specialist Regulatory Advocates in Health and Safety and Environmental Law, since 2012. In addition, James is on the “A” list of the Attorney-General’s Panel of Civil Counsel, having been a panel member since 1996.

Health & Safety and Environmental Law

James has extensive expertise gained over 20 years of the most serious Health and Safety prosecutions. He appears regularly in the Crown Court in fatal accident cases and those involving risks to the public at large. He is equally comfortable acting for the prosecution or defence in the most complex matters. James’ cases tend to be multi-day cases requiring him to leverage his encyclopedic knowledge of health and safety laws, rules and regulations, his appetite for assimilating and dissecting volumes of evidence and his tactful, yet effective ability to handle and support witnesses of all types.

 

An eminent Crown Court advocate, James is also an experienced appellate advocate having appeared  in significant cases such as R v ATE Truck and Trailer Limited [2018] EWCA Crim 752, R v Mick George Limited and R v John Bruce. In addition, owing to his extensive expertise of legislation, practice and procedure, James has given presentations and seminars in Health and Safety and environmental law and recently presented at the National Safety and Health Conference.

James’ practice encompasses complex environmental work and his recent cases have involved large scale water or air pollution issues. As example, James has prosecuted statutory undertakings such as Severn Trent Water (on three occasions) and Yorkshire Water.

 

James is both a member of the ‘A’ list of the Panel of Specialist Regulatory Advocates for prosecution work, whilst also being on the ‘A’ list for the Attorney-General’s Civil Panel of Counsel. That relatively unusual double achievement, which James has held for nearly 10 years, demonstrates James’ expertise in both criminal and civil cases alike.

A snapshot of James’ extensive health and safety and environmental experience includes advising:

 

  • Ongoing HSE Prosecutions (2021) – James is currently instructed by the HSE in several fatal accident prosecutions including the ongoing prosecutions of the Kier Group and of Tolent Limited;
  • R v Drayton Manor Park Ltd [2021] – James was instructed to prosecute the theme park over health and safety failings that led to the death of an 11 year old girl on the river rapids ride;
  • R v Leadec Ltd (2020} – The prosecution of a leading facilities management company over the death of an employee at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Birmingham;
  • HSE v Cambus Ltd (2019) – James represented a Stagecoach Ltd subsidiary in a fatal accident prosecution and led a three-counsel team in a 6-week trial at St Albans Crown Court. This involved detailed and contested expert evidence on construction and traffic management;
  • HSE v Chesterfield Special Cylinders (2019) – successful prosecution of a complicated fatal accident trial. This technically complex prosecution concerned an explosion of a pressurisation system and James was required to cross-examine 4 engineering experts;
  • EA v Gibson, Williams and Lawrence (2018) – James led for the Environment Agency in a 5-week trial concerning major pollution in a residential area arising from a month-long fire at a waste processing facility. In addition to complex environmental and pollution issues involving risks to health, this case concerned director’s liability issues;
  • EA v John Bruce (2017 and ongoing) – a case of major environmental harm arising from the unlicensed dumping and burning at a waste facility near Pershore. This later became the first Court of Appeal authority on imprisonment for environmental offences;
  • R v Drawn Metal Ltd (2017) – James appeared for a corporate defendant in a multi-handed 5-week fatal accident trial at the Old Bailey arising from a construction accident in central London;
  • National Grid Gas Prosecution (2016) – James appeared in the prosecution of National Grid Gas which arose as a result of a gas leak and explosion on a street in Scunthorpe, which endangered public safety and the life of one of its contractors who was trapped in an excavation; and
  • HSE v Solvay Solutions Limited (2016) – James acted for the HSE in the prosecution of Solvay Solutions Limited, one of the largest chemical manufacturers in the world. The case concerned a chemical fire and an escape of phosphoric acid at a plant in the West Midlands which caused the M5 to be shut. This was one of the first cases to be sentenced under the new sentencing guidelines.

Inquests and Coronial Matters

An experienced advocate and representative in the Coroner’s Court, James appears regularly at inquests across the UK. James intentionally maintains a balanced coronial matters practice, appearing for a wide range of interested persons at inquests, including insurers, the Health and Safety Executive, other statutory bodies, corporate clients and local authorities. James is a strong believer that the most effective practitioners must maintain a rounded client base, so as to be alert to all of the salient issues, the prevailing legislation and the latest rules of practice and procedure. James is particularly singled out in this arena for his calm demeanour, his ability to support the reasoned flow of a hearing by his expert handling of vulnerable witnesses and for his ability to tactfully and efficiently deal with the most complex, harrowing and serious of cases. He is well-versed in cases involving expert medical evidence

Over the last 6 or 7 years, James has been called upon to advise and represent interested persons in cases of the highest importance and significance. Those cases often involve significant underlying financial exposure to an interested party (in the form of fines or damages from resultant / following litigation), significant reputational risk, a risk of harm to the public at a large, cases that involve multiple fatalities or which otherwise carry serious consequences for an instructing party.

A snapshot of James’ extensive inquest and coronial matters experience includes:

  • 2020 inquest arising from death of a patient – James acted for a facilities management company at the inquest in Gloucester into the death of a pensioner arising from a fall in the grounds of Gloucester Royal Hospital;
  • 2019 inquest into the death of Evha Jannath – James acted for the HSE at the inquest into the death of a 11-year-old girl at Drayton Manor Theme Park;
  • 2016 inquest arising from the death of an inmate at Leicester Prison – James represented the Prison Service at an Article 2 inquest concerning the death of an inmate at Leicester Prison; and
  • 2015 inquest arising from Northampton nightclub deaths – James was instructed by Northamptonshire County Council in the inquest arising from the deaths of two students during a crush at a night club in Northampton.

VAT, excise, customs and wider taxation

James is an established indirect tax litigation specialist, with over 15 years’ experience. Many of his cases involve new or challenging points of law and/or have been reported and relied upon subsequently. His practice encompasses VAT and Customs and Excise duties appeals from the Tax Tribunal (Upper and First Tier) to the High Court and Court of Appeal. There are few areas of litigation before the Tribunal which James has not been involved in and he is considered a ‘go to’ barrister by HMRC.

A snapshot of James’ extensive tax and duties experience includes the following reported cases:

  • Tower Bridge v HMRC [2021] UKUT 30 – Successful in the first contested carbon credit MTIC appeal;
  • Aria Technology [2020] – Court of Appeal authority on the requirements for a tax assessment;
  • Wakefield College v HMRC [2018] EWCA Civ 952;
  • Hammonds of Knutsford Plc v HMRC [2018] EWCA Civ 135;
  • European Brand Trading Ltd v HMRC [2016] EWCA Civ 90;
  • HMRC v Infinity Distribution Ltd [2016] EWCA Civ 1014;
  • N & M Walkingshaw Ltd v HMRC [2015] UKUT 123;
  • Why Pay More For Cars v HMRC [2015] UKUT 468;
  • Fonecomp Limited v HMRC [2015] EWCA 39 – important authority addressing the phenomenon of “contra-trading” in MTIC fraud;
  • POWA (Jersey) Ltd v HMRC [2012] UKUT 83 –important decision on the application of the Court of Appeal authority of Mobilx Ltd and others v HMRC [2020] EWCA Civ 517;
  • General Motors UK v HMRC [2012];
  • Bristol Street Group plc v HMRC [2010]; and
  • Gascoyne v Customs and Excise Commissioners [2004] EWCA Civ 1162 –this leading case which concerned the jurisdiction of the Tribunal over the seizure of motor vehicles and goods. He appeared thereafter in a succession of High Court cases on this subject and in 2014 was part of the successful team in First Stop Wholesale Ltd v HMRC [2014] UKSC 34.

Working with James

Professional and lay clients alike comment that James is a ‘calm, reasoned’ and ‘hugely efficient practitioner’. He is able to set clients, interested parties and witnesses at ease and, through hard work, a sharp eye for detail and his keen intellect, is able to cut straight to the salient issues of any dispute, inquiry or prosecution. James has the rare ability to combine an extremely personable and ‘down to earth’ nature, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the law and a robust approach to case and witness management. James regularly cross-examines expert medical and other specialist witnesses, drawing attention to often hidden and opaque points in the evidence, buried in the detail.

Professional clients in particular value his ability, despite a busy caseload and regular demand, to be on ‘top of everything’. Not only does James know his brief ‘back to front’, clients have come to rely upon the exceptional quality of his written advice, the calm and persuasive style of his courtroom advocacy and the prompt, efficient way in which he deals with each case.

Education

LLB, University of Liverpool – 1986 to 1989 - 2:1 (hons)
Bar Vocational Course – Inns of Court School of Law - 1990

Appointments and Memberships

‘A’ list of the List of Specialist Regulatory Advocates in Health and Safety and Environmental Law

‘A’ list for the Attorney-General’s Civil Panel of Counsel

Midland Circuit

The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple

Criminal Bar Association

Health and Safety Lawyers Association

Testimonials

James is a top ranked (Tier 1 and Band 1, as well as Band 2 in Chambers also) leading junior in the 2021 editions of Legal 500 and Chambers.
“A noted junior who is regularly called upon to prosecute and defend complex health and safety matters. He has considerable experience in the handling of fatal accident cases. He is also adept at undertaking inquest work” Chambers UK 2021
"A thoughtful and insightful advocate." "He's an effective and hard-working barrister." "He knows his way around this specialist field very well." Chambers UK 2021
“A highly regarded junior who is a specialist in indirect taxation. He has acted in a number of cases concerning MTIC fraud and the seizure and restoration of goods. He is adept at acting in public law challenges on taxation issues Chambers UK 2021
"He is superb." "He is very measured and very persuasive in what he says." Chambers UK 2021
“James Puzey is a strong health and safety prosecutor, with recent work including incidents in theme parks and factories.” Legal 500 2021
“A careful, considered and effective advocate who always delivers quality work.” Legal 500 2021
"An excellent lawyer who misses nothing." Legal 500 2020
"He is extremely dependable and produces very good work very promptly." and "He is one of the most popular counsels to use on indirect tax." Chambers UK
"He's excellent. He is on top of everything and is 100% reliable." Chambers UK
"He is well regarded for his experience and commitment to hard work." Chambers UK
"James is always calm, thorough and hugely efficient; he specialises in clear, concise instructions and always gives us swift responses." Chambers UK