James Onalaja

Areas of Practice

General Crime and Military Courts Martial

James has developed a solid criminal practice, with emphasis on both defence and prosecution work. He regularly appears in Crown Courts throughout the English jurisdiction, represents clients facing serious allegations before summary courts and deals with appeal matters at all levels of the appellate jurisdiction. He has greatly benefited from an exposure to a wide spectrum within the said practice area, including: allegations of serious and organised crime; violent crime; matters of dishonesty and; serious sexual offences.

James receives instructions to represent armed forces personnel appearing at Courts Martial both within the UK and abroad. Over the years, he has developed a professional working relationship with service men and women of varying ranks, and also with civilian staff who are caught within the ambit of armed forces law.

Alongside his solid defence base, James is regularly instructed by a number of prosecution authorities thus ensuring a healthy balance which encapsulates all the essential skills of a competent advocate. This includes: the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS); the Welfare, Rural and Health Division; Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC); Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), local authorities and; the Probation Service.

Serious and Complex Fraud

James is regularly instructed on matters of serious and complex fraud. He was on the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) Prosecution Counsels List, B Panel until 2017. He was instructed as Legal Professional Privilege (LPP) Counsel to the SFO in its first investigation into the 2008 financial crisis and the allegations of fraud leading to the collapse of a major international bank. He is experienced at acting as independent counsel and has been instructed on a number of HMRC operations and investigations, advising the investigators, suspects and defendants.

International Law

James has been admitted to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) List of Counsel and he is eligible to represent defendants and victims at the ICC. He is trained and experienced at working on cases with international and transnational criminal law elements including allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, cases involving obtaining or utilising evidence from other jurisdictions and matters involving international organised criminal groups.

He is trained and experienced at working on matters involving international humanitarian law and international human rights law and recently worked on such matters with Prakken d’Oliveira International Human Rights Lawyers whilst based in the Netherlands. He has worked with members of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in preparing the committee members for the 122ndSession of the UNHRC, where the committee conducted periodic oral dialogues with States and reviewed their implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Civil Disputes, Public and Regulatory Law

James is regularly instructed in tax dispute matters before tax tribunals by individuals, corporations and HMRC. He has acted as junior and sole counsel for HMRC on a number of multimillion pounds tax disputes, particularly those arising out of allegations of Missing Trader Intra-Community (MTIC) fraud. He was instructed by HMRC as sole counsel on a tax dispute matter worth over £13million.

He is cultivating a rapidly growing practice in civil actions against government departments and bodies exercising executive powers, including matters involving allegations of violations of human rights, civil liberties, and judicial review of the exercise of powers by branches of the State.

James receives instructions on matters of regulatory law, licensing, trademarks and copyright, general contract and tort disputes, final cost disputes, proceeds of crime and forfeiture cases. He has acted on cases before professional disciplinary panels including the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

Cases Involving Vulnerable Individuals

James is fully trained in and has an in-depth experience in dealing with vulnerable and youth clients as well as in handling sensitive cases and vulnerable witnesses with the necessary respect and delicacy in order to extract essential and cogent evidence.

Direct and Public Access Accredited

James is accredited by the Bar Standards Board to receive instructions directly from members of the public and non-legal corporate entities in all practice areas.

Notable Cases

R v YJ<2019>

Allegations of a spate of sexual assaults in public spaces by a defendant with a history of mental health difficulties.

R v EB & Another<2019>

Allegations of a multi-handed violent armed robbery of a home.

Private M <2019> Military Courts Martial

Allegations of misconduct and violent assault on a superior officer.

R v HF& Others <2019>

Allegations of a targeted revenge shooting by members of an organised criminal gang.

122nd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Committee(UNHRC) <2018>

Worked with members of the UNHRC in preparation for and at the periodic oral dialogues with States and the review of the States’ implementation of the ICCPR.

R v DT(Court of Appeal) <2018>

Appeal against conviction and sentence in a case involving allegations of historic child sex abuse by a family member. Issues re what amounts to bad character evidence and the impact of the trial judge’s refusal to give a good character direction to the jury.

Case 004/02 Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia<2017>

Worked with the team of defence lawyers on the defence response to the prosecution’s submissions re the closing orders by the co-investigating judges on the sufficiency of evidence to support charges including crimes against humanity and genocide.

R v RH<2017>

Old Bailey alleged unlawful wounding of restaurant staff by prospective customer with extensive CCTV evidence.

Synectiv Ltd v HMRC<2017> UKUT 0099 (TCC)

£1.4 million tax dispute arising from allegations of MTIC fraud, leading to appeal of findings of the First-Tier Tribunal to the Upper Tier Tribunal (Tax and Chancery Chamber) (Junior Counsel).

R v DT<2017>

Allegations of historic child sex abuse by a family member, involving delicate and skilful handling of child witnesses and evidence.

Guardsman C<2016>Military Courts Martial

Allegations of AWOL by a soldier following deployment orders.

R v MS<2016>

Alleged attempted armed robbery of financial institution.

CH v HMRC<2016> UKFTT 316 (TC)

Challenges to HMRC’s enquiries into tax returns and rights to request information and impose penalties for failure to comply.

R v TC<2016>

Sexual assault of vulnerable complainant with mental health issues.

JB v Commissioner for Police of Metropolis & Chief Constable of West Midlands Police<2016> High Court

Civil action re repeated acts by numerous police officers of: wrongful arrests, unlawful detention; negligence, breaches of Data Protection Act ’98 and actions under the Human Rights Act ’98 for infringements of Article 5 and 8 ECHR.

Gold Nuts Ltd et al v HMRC<2016> Lloyds Rep. F.C. 249

Legal arguments re the limits of the privilege against self-incrimination excisable by company directors and corporations during HMRC enquiries into corporation and self-assessment tax returns.

R v EM & Other<2016>

Alleged violent multi-handed armed robbery of alleged local ‘drug dealer’ by defendant with mental health issues.

QP v HMRC<2016> UKFTT 100 (TC)

HMRC powers to request information and documentation as part of enquires allegedly opened for an improper motive and the nature and extent of statutory records for the purpose of schedule 36 information notice requests.

R v TJ<2015>

Allegation of possession of firearms with intent to endanger life following ‘gangland’ shooting allegedly over a drug dispute.

Operation Galvez<2015>

Independent Counsel on LPP dispute issues arising from cross border investigation and prosecution re alleged large scale and wide ranging tax fraud.

R v HR<2015>

Allegation of gross dishonesty against serving RAF personnel.

Operation Amazon<2014>

Independent Counsel on LPP dispute issues arising from wide ranging HMRC prosecution for alleged large scale carbon tax credit fraud.

Colchester Borough Council v NC<2014>

Civil action to prevent local authority from obtaining injunction which restricts a vulnerable defendant from accessing mental health services and seeks to restrain him from displaying symptoms of his disorder.

JB v Chief Constable for Sussex Police<2014>

Civil action re repeated: wrongful arrests, unlawful detention; negligence, and actions under the Human Rights Act ’98 for infringements of Article 5 and 8 ECHR by numerous police officers.

Annova Ltd v HMRC<2014> UKUT 0028 (TCC)

Multi-million pounds VAT dispute leading to appeal of findings of FTT to the Upper Tier Tribunal (Tax and Chancery Chamber) (Junior Counsel).

RS v Sec of State for Home Department<2014>

Civil claim for unlawful detention, harassment, and under the Human Rights Act ’98 for violations of Articles 5 and 8 ECHR.

Synectiv Ltd v HMRC<2013> UKFTT 677 (TC)

£1.4 million VAT dispute matter arising from allegation of MTIC fraud (Junior Counsel).

AG v Direct Line Insurance<2013>

Negligence and breach of contract claim re wrongful cancellation of car insurance.

R v AW<2013>

Attempted murder and section 18 GBH by soldier re 2 separate complainants.

R v JL<2013>

Allegation of gang violence against publican arsing from alleged protection racket.

Base Interactive Ltd v HMRC<2013>          

Tax dispute worth over £13million, involving a network of companies across Europe.

R v AS & Other<2013>                     

Alleged Hampstead Heath gang armed robbery involving vulnerable defendant.

R v L (Court of Appeal)<2012> EWCA Crim 830

Limits to the impact of joint enterprise in sentencing, and the relevance of actual roles played by defendants in a violent gang armed robbery and ‘carjacking’.

Rawlinson & Hunter Trustees and Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz v SFO<2012>

Independent Counsel advising parties on LPP issues arising out of proposed SFO prosecution for alleged multi-million pounds’ fraud following collapse of Kaupting Bank.

Softhouse Ltd v HMRC<2012> LON/2008/01903   

£2.9 million tax dispute (Junior Counsel).

Tosdevine v Cooperative Group Ltd.<2012>

Medical negligence cost dispute.

ASNWA Ltd v VA & Others<2012>

Advice re intellectual property, constitution of unincorporated organisation and rights of members.

Annova Ltd v HMRC<2011> UKFTT 742 (TC)

Multi-million pounds VAT dispute.

R v D (Court of Appeal)<2010> EWCA Crim 1998

Appeal against conviction re multi-handed gang assault with intent to rob.

Air Trooper W <2009> Military Courts Martial Appeal

Allegations of AWOL by military personnel with severe mental health issues.

Guardsman H & Others<2008> Military Courts Martial, Germany

Alleged multi-handed violent assault and allegations of fundamentalist terrorism.

R v M<2007>

Five deaths by dangerous driving by military personnel.

R v H & Others<2007>         

Multi-handed attempted robbery.

R v BY<2007>                       

Sexual assault by penetration of learning disabled.

R v GY<2006>            

Allegations of making indecent images of children

Associated Work

  • Member of the Bar Council’s ‘Speak up for Others’ schools outreach programme;
  • Involved in the training and mentoring of bar students at Lincoln’s Inn and the University of Law;
  • Provides CPD accredited lectures and training to legal practitioners and other professionals.


LLM with Distinction (Cum Laude) in International Criminal Law, Amsterdam Law School, University of Amsterdam

Global Alliance Certificate in International Criminal Law, Columbia Law School, Columbia University in the City of New York

PG Dip. Law, Inns of Court School of Law, City University, London

LLB (Hons), College of St Hild & St Bede, Durham University


Keble Scholar, Lincoln’s Inn

Hardwicke Scholar, Lincoln’s Inn


  • “Resolving the Al-Bashir ConundrumIn light of the conflicting opinion of the ICC judges on the legal basis for finding State parties non-compliant with the ICC request for the arrest and surrender of Omar Al-Bashir, are State parties to the Rome Statute under an obligation to Arrest Al-Bashir and surrender him to the ICC?” – University of Amsterdam UvA Scripties Online <2018> - http://www.scriptiesonline.uba.uva.nl/665712
  • “Day in the Life of a Barrister” – Student Law Review, Cavendish/Routledge Publishing <2007>
  • “Journey to the Axis of Evil” – Durham21.co.uk <2002>

Professional / Association Memberships

  • Criminal Bar Association
  • Association of Military Courts Advocates
  • South Eastern Circuit
  • Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn
  • Amnesty International


  • Native fluency in Yoruba (Nigeria)
  • Basic French


James is a keen photographer and artist. He enjoys experiencing new cultural destinations and has a passion for travel journalism. He has been awarded the Queens Golden Jubilee Millennium Volunteer Award of Excellence for his work in the community. James has sat on the boards of trustees of two charities responsible for outreach projects across North London.