Christopher Johnston QC

Call 1990 | Silk 2011

Christopher Johnston QC | Call 1990 | Silk 2011

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Overview

Chris is a top flight medical silk. He heads Chambers’ award-winning clinical negligence team and co-chaired the esteemed PNBA Clinical Negligence weekend from 2014-2018.  A recognised leader in the field of product liability, he is a team player with extensive experience of large class actions. He edits a seminal medical ethics book. Chris was lead counsel for the injured claimant in the landmark Supreme Court case of XX v Whittington which changed the law on the recoverability of surrogacy damages. Described by the directories as “phenomenally detailed”, “ferociously bright”, “meticulously prepared” and ” so easy to work with”. Chris is ranked in Band 1 for Clinical Negligence in both Chambers & Partners and Legal 500.  He was awarded Clinical Negligence Silk of the Year at the Chambers & Partners Bar Awards 2019.

Chris is clerked primarily by Lee Johnson, Clare Sabido, Natasha Southgate and Alicia Lutumba.

“He is the full package; phenomenal attention to detail, wonderful with clients and brilliant to work with.”
The Legal 500

Chris successfully represented the injured claimant in the ground-breaking case of XX v Whittington which changed the law on the recoverability of surrogacy damages.
Click here to watch the Supreme Court hearing,  here for press coverage from The Guardian and The Telegraph and here for our healthcare blog’s review of the decision.

experience & expertise

Chris leads the award-winning Serjeants’ Inn Clinical Negligence and Healthcare Team.  He has been recognised as a leading clinical negligence practitioner for many, many years. Before the age of 30, Legal 500 included him in their “top 40 barristers under 40”. As a silk he has undertaken the most legally and technically complex cases for both top claimant and defence firms. He is a team-player, ensuring he works with his top-rank solicitors to get the best from their experts. He adopts a meticulous forensic approach. Through focussed questioning of specialists, he distils complex medical and scientific ideas into a straightforward presentation for the court. His empathetic approach ensures that clients are reassured, and understand their own cases and the legal team’s assessment of their merits.

His extensive experience has been recognised by his peers: he was appointed as co-chair of the Professional Negligence Bar Association’s Clinical Negligence weekend (2014-2018). He has been exposed to nearly every conceivable type of medical case, ranging from complex retinopathy of prematurity to high value cerebral palsy and brain damage cases (such as the Fieldfisher case in which a £9m award was secured for Rebecca Ling, whose heroism in the face of her profound disabilities was recognised when she carried the Olympic flame). He has extensive experience of fatal cases including recently acting for Irwin Mitchell in a £4 million settlement for the family of an investment banker who died after receiving sub-standard medical treatment.

Chris’s background in medical ethics cases and position as editor of the leading medical treatment text means he is well placed to handle the sensitive issues involved in mental health clinical negligence cases. He has acted in many high value claims involving catastrophic injuries following suicide attempts.

Chris is adept at handling cases involving novel points of law such as XX v Whittington (surrogacy), and Toombes v Mitchell (wrongful life claim from disabled woman allegedly born as a result of negligent pre-conception advice given to her mother).

He has unrivalled technical expertise in dealing with vast group actions as both junior and silk. He is exceptionally computer-savvy using his Excel skills to create impressive shortcuts for juniors and solicitors through substantial damages and disclosure exercises.

Chris spoke to APIL during lockdown on the use of technology in litigation.  He has led in-house and external talks on mediation.  He constantly looks to innovate and learn from other fields and professions: over the last 5 years, he has chaired a series of talks and conversations led by Nicola Hurdley, serving Detective Chief Inspector and Crisis Negotiator, on improving communication techniques by learning from internationally recognised tactics.

Cases & work of note

Examples of Chris’s work includes the following:

recommendations

Chris is Band 1 rated by both the leading legal directories for clinical negligence, product liability and Court of Protection work.

He is described by Chambers & Partners as “a very, very clever man. Exceptionally bright and capable. A super brain and a nice man too.”

Other recent directory editorial includes:

  • his disarming application of logic has an equal tendency to dishearten opponents and impress judges;
  • he fights furiously for his clients, but never lets that get in the way of common sense and reasonableness;
  • an outstanding silk who is at the top of his game;
  • a truly brilliant advocate;
  • ferociously bright and a formidable opponent;
  • he is extraordinarily bright, brilliant at detail and using innovative technology;
  • he has an incredible mind and an excellent manner with clients;
  • a charming silk with unsurpassed conference preparation;
  • tirelessly hard-working with a fresh and always compelling view of the fast-emerging law in this area;

REFLECTIONS

I wanted to be an astronaut. My earliest memories are of watching the Apollo moon buggies. I was devastated when I learnt aged eight that my colour-blindness meant my dreams of being an astronaut could not be fulfilled. That visual defect was obviously the only reason it was Tim Peake and not me hanging out with the Russians in orbit. I did settle on being a barrister a surprisingly short period of time after giving up on my space odyssey. The Bar was repeatedly mentioned to me as a career option. I liked to think it was because of my combination of skills in maths, science and the arts at school. I now realise it was probably because I never shut up and loved “drama” whether on stage, or in life more generally.

“All my cases entail human interest stories… People are at the core of the work.”

Spreadsheets are your friend. I should have invented Facebook and not been a barrister. As a kid for a time my only real friend was my Acorn Atom computer with its cassette tape program storage system. The publication of my Formula 1 racing game and Morse code decoder software should have given me the hint that there was money to be made in this new-fangled computer world. I love to bring the latest technologies into my preparation and presentation of cases with my latest best friends being my iPad Pro and my Apple pencil. Technology should be your friend in litigation.

It’s the humanity, stupid. However, for all my love of gadgets, what makes me so passionate about my work is its humanity. All my cases entail human interest stories: tragedies and follies, resilience and bravery. People are at the core of the work. Understanding the human relationships that underpin medical interactions is endlessly fascinating. It is also a privilege to work with solicitors, experts and clients as a team to understand complex medico-legal cases. The resilience and fortitude of injured clients and their families never ceases to amaze me – and put one’s own trivial woes into proper perspective.

There’s no such thing as a silly question. Asking highly specialist doctors and experts a series of simple questions about a technical topic is always revealing. The apparently stupid question often reveals either a central nugget of understanding or – as often – the ultimate limitations of scientific understanding of the human brain and body.

A bit of humility goes a long way. As we sit bewigged in our ivory chambers, we must always guard against over-confidence and the glib easy answer. The more I have learnt about litigation over the years (and specifically medico-legal litigation) the more I realise I don’t know. The work requires long hours. It is never easy but it is never boring. My pupil supervisor, Dame Nicola Davies DBE, was a highly gifted advocate. Yet despite her reputation as a “natural” and “instinctive” advocate, she instilled in me the key litigation mantra: “preparation, preparation, preparation.”

Academic

Educated at Ballymena Academy in Northern Ireland, Chris obtained a first class degree in Law from Cambridge University (Trinity Hall).

publications and seminars

He edits Medical Treatment: Decisions and the Law (Bloomsbury Professional, 3rd ed, 2016). He wrote “A personal (and selective) introduction to product liability law” (2012) J.P.I.L. 1. He has spoken to wide-ranging audiences including the PEOPIL conference in Malaga, and Europol in the Hague.

Chris’s recent talks include:

  •  “Use of technology during the Covid-19 pandemic: Top Tips” (with Frances McClenaghan), APIL 13th July 2020
  •   “Communications and Negotiations”, chairing a series of on-going talks and conversations led by Nicola Hurdley, serving Detective Chief Inspector and Crisis Negotiator (within chambers from 2016 and externally from 2021).
  • XX v Whittington – recovery of surrogacy damages , July 2020

 

ARTICLES

As a contributing editor, Chris has recently reported on the following cases for the Medical Law Reports:

  • Swift v Carpenter, [2020] EWCA Civ 1295, [2020] Med LR 527
    Personal injuries – Capital accommodation claims – Quantification of accommodation claims – Valuation of reversionary interest off-set – Point in time to assess reversionary interest – Term certain multiplier for life expectancy – Fair and reasonable, but not excessive, compensation.
  • NKX v Barts Health NHS Trust, [2020] EWHC 828 (QB), [2020] Med LR 298
    Clinical negligence – Obstetrics – Breach of duty in consenting for fetal monitoring – Causation – Duration of hypoxia – Myers hypothesis versus extended Myers hypothesis on hypoxia.
  • Raqueeb v Barts NHS Foundation Trusts (Costs), [2019] EWHC 3320 (Admin) and [2019] EWHC 3322 (Fam), [2020] Med LR 17
    Costs – Whether costs to follow the event in Children Act proceedings – Whether costs to follow the event in judicial review – Exercise of costs’ discretion – Children Act 1989, section 8 – Children Act 2004, section 11(2)(a) – Civil Procedure Rules, rr 44.2, 44.10 – Family Procedure Rules, r 28.1 – Senior Courts Act 1981, sections 31(2A), 51(1)(b).
  • R (ota CXF) v Central Bedfordshire Council [2018] EWCA Civ 2852, [2019] Med LR 88
    Meaning of “after-care services” within section 117 of Mental Health Act 1983 – Expenses travelling to support patient – Use of Mental Health Act Code of Practice to interpret Mental Health Act – Statutory interpretation.
  • East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust v PW [2019] EWCOP 10, [2019] Med LR 218
    Capacity – Paranoid schizophrenia with delusional beliefs – Below knee amputation – Best interests’ assessment – Urgent application.
  • Jones  v Taunton And Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, [2019] EWHC 1408 (QB), [2019] Med LR 384
    Clinical negligence – Breach of duty – Contemporary responsible body of medical opinion – Obstetric negligence – Choice of tocolytic drug.

Privacy

Christopher adopts and adheres to the provisions of the privacy notice which can be accessed here.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further details of Christopher’s practice please click on the links to the left or contact a member of the clerking or client service team.

Bar Council Membership No: 26289
Registered Name: Christopher George Johnston
VAT Registration No: 524446062