Donald Keating QC

Donald’s early career was interrupted by being called up for military service straight from school, during World War II. He opted for the RAF and acquired his first interest in technical matters as an air navigator. He was fortunate to be still in reserve at the end of the war and, after demobilisation, went up to King’s College London to read history.

After graduating he opted for law, being called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn, and entered Chambers as the pupil of John Plume, a Landlord and Tenant specialist. This work led to an interest in dilapidations cases and then building contracts. There was no current up-to-date book on the subject (the 7th Edition of Hudson had been published in 1946) and so Donald took the unprecedented step of writing a book of his own. Keating’s “Law and Practice of Building Contracts” was first published in 1955 when the author had been in practice for all of five years. The book was well received and has substantially retained its original format, now through seven editions with an eighth edition scheduled for publication in 2006. Donald was solely responsible for the first four editions up to 1978 and handed over the fifth and six editions to Anthony May QC, now Lord Justice May. After May’s elevation to the High Court the seventh and eighth editions have been undertaken by Stephen Furst QC and Vivian Ramsey QC, the latter also being appointed to the High Court Bench in 2005. Keating on Building Contracts is now, however, a collective Chambers publication involving contributions from 15 or more additional members of Keating Chambers.

Despite the success of his book, Donald Keating’s early career was neither easy nor assured. Life at the Bar in the 1950s was uncertain and it was only in the 1960s that a recognisable “Construction Bar” emerged which could devote the majority of its time to this specialised area. It was in this period that Donald Keating began to undertake a good proportion of the leading cases, usually starting before the Official Referees and not infrequently reaching The House of Lords. These included Gloucester County Council v Richardson (1969), Northwest Metropolitan Hospital Board v Bickerton (1970) and Jarvis v Westminster City Council (1971). It was shortly after this that Donald was instructed in the Mitchell v East Anglia Regional Hospital Board Arbitration, a case which was to break all records, and still figures in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest commercial arbitration at 239 days.

Donald succeeded in winning the case against two senior Silks from other Chambers. Strangely, at the beginning of Mitchell Donald was still a junior, the award of Silk to specialists being comparatively rare. Only in 1972 did Donald finally become a QC, although once the taboo was lifted Keating Chambers rapidly acquired the substantial number of QCs which it has sported ever since.

Donald’s later career involved many substantial arbitrations and court cases. He was one of the early pioneers to conduct cases in the Far East (Hong Kong and Singapore) and in the Caribbean as well as cases in Paris and elsewhere in Europe. Most of all, however, he continued to relish trips to The House of Lords. These included Sutcliffe v Thackrah (1974) which reaffirmed the duty of certifiers, and his last case Alghussein v Eton College (1988) discussing the origin of the principle that a party to a contract cannot take advantage of his own breach.

Donald Keating was Head of Chambers in succession to the late Colonel Stuart Horner, from 1975 to 1992. During this time Chambers expanded substantially and became progressively more specialised in building, engineering and other technical work, as well as moving from the cramped accommodation in the Temple which it had long outgrown, to new and spacious commercial premises in Essex Street. Upon Donald’s retirement as its Head, Chambers resolved to adopt the style Keating Chambers which was appropriately celebrated by the commissioning of Donald’s portrait by June Mendoza which now hangs in Chambers Reception to keep a watching eye on all that goes on. Donald Keating died on 1st August 1995 at the age of 71 while still very much in harness. As well as adopting his name, Chambers organises an occasional series of commemorative lectures, which have been delivered by Sir Michael Kerr, Lord Phillips, Lord Hoffmann and Lord Dyson.