#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Mark Johnston QC, Maxwell 42


Interview Series - Mark Johnston QC

#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Mark Johnston QC, Maxwell 42

Recently appointed as Queen’s Counsel, Mark Johnston QC shared with us his thoughts on receiving the title, influential figures in his career, the best work-related advice he had received, and more in #10QuestionsWithMaxwell.

Mark is presently an International Arbitration Counsel at Maxwell 42. He has appeared as a leading counsel in numerous arbitrations in London, Singapore, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, and worked as counsel on international arbitrations in Dubai, Spain and in the UK.

Before being called to the independent Bar in April 2007, Mark worked as a lawyer for the Commonwealth Government and for a top-tier international law firm. He was appointed a Special Adviser to the United Nations in East Timor, and received a United Nations’ Commendation for outstanding performance. Mark was also formerly a qualified Chinese linguist for the Commonwealth Government and had the unique opportunity to participate in the inaugural Government-sponsored instructor exchange in China which saw him live and work in China. Mark has been awarded the Australian Active Service Medal and a United Nations Medal.

Read his full interview below:

Q: Congratulations on being appointed as Queen’s Counsel! How did you feel when you received the title?

A: It is a privilege and honour to be appointed as Queen’s Counsel, but with it comes enormous responsibility to be a leader and to the proper administration of justice. I am excited by the challenge and I hope to be able to give something back to the profession and the community.

Q: What inspired you to join the legal profession?

A: There is a classic movie called “The Castle”. It is a comedy film and very funny, but it also has a serious side. A quirky family, the Kerrigan’s, live in a makeshift home at the end of a busy international airport with lots of noise and smell. The government issues a notice to compulsorily resume their land for an airport expansion, until Darryl Kerrigan fights the government starting at a local court all the way to the High Court. A retired silk acts pro bono for the Kerrigan’s win in the High Court. The movie inspired me to join the legal profession for two reasons – the intellectual challenge and to represent.

Q: What is the most interesting arbitration you have been a part of?

A: All international arbitrations are interesting. But two stand out. One concerned a large LNG project with overlapping court proceedings for insurance claims and statutory claims. The multiple interrelated court and arbitral proceedings, combined with multiple different parties and overlapping claims, created enormous complexity. Another concerned a large infrastructure project where the contract revealed a possibility of the applicable law being a choice of three diverse jurisdictions, with concurrent arbitral proceedings, civil proceedings in court and also criminal proceedings for fraud.

Q: Since you began your career, what has been the biggest change you have seen in relation to the way that arbitration proceedings are conducted?

A: Flexibility. Arbitrations are leading the way with more flexible case management techniques to improve the efficiency and conduct of cases.

Q: Virtual and hybrid hearings are becoming the new norm. How has that affected hearings proceedings, in your opinion? 

A: Virtual hearings are great for interlocutory case management reviews and to deal with procedural issues. However, I believe that in-person hearings are still best for substantive hearings, particularly when witnesses need to give oral evidence or when there is extended argument. With virtual hearings, there is a loss of human body language, which can provide signals to an advocate on how to examine a witness or make submissions. It is hard to replace the eye contact and the opportunity to persuade in person. I think there will eventually be a shift back to in-person hearings for substantive matters.

Q: Do you have a mentor / an influential figure that you look up to throughout your career? Share with us.

A: There are two people. The first is Allan Myers AC QC. He is a charismatic and generous person, and a fantastic silk and arbitrator. Allan has been a true mentor and I have the greatest respect for him. The second is The Honourable Patrick Keane AC, a justice of the High Court of Australia. Justice Keane is an intellectual giant, but at the same time humble and respectful.

Q: Looking back in your career, what has been your proudest achievement?

A: Taking silk on appointment as Queen’s Counsel, and also the award of the University Medal in Law.

Q: Share with us the best piece of advice you had received.

A: Be humble and respect the cleaner through to the CEO.

Q: You had not been in Singapore for about 2 years. What do you miss most about Singapore?

A: That is easy to answer. Chili Crab, and the Hawker Centres.

Q: Share with us your favourite pastime.

A: I love surfing and swimming. There is something special about being in the ocean and exposed to the elements. I find surfing and swimming is the only time I completely disconnect.

Q: Tell us 3 things that comes to your mind when we mention Maxwell Chambers.

A: Maxwell Chambers is internationally recognised as being synonymous with arbitrations. The first thing that comes to mind is a world-leading arbitration and dispute resolution centre.

The second thing is the main building and adjoining suites. The Maxwell buildings are full of character, and surrounded by modern towers.

The third is Sir Peter Benson Maxwell. Not many people know that Maxwell Road and Maxwell Chambers are named after him.


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