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David Smellie safeguarding lawyer, employment lawyer

David is consistently rated one of the top employment and safeguarding lawyers in the UK. Whether advising on senior executive moves within PLCs or private equity, or the handling of serious or high-profile safeguarding cases, either past or present, David is acknowledged for the clarity and astuteness of his advice – always looking several steps ahead in an attempt to futureproof whatever action is contemplated now.

In employment law David has consistently been rated amongst the top-rated UK employment lawyers by Chambers and Legal 500. He advises institutional employers on the discrete handling of potentially high-profile employment cases. He is also acknowledged to be one of the leading employment law advisers to senior executives, typically advising on PLC board and private equity moves and departures.

Outside of employment law, David advises leading independent schools and focuses on issues relating to staff, pupils and parents – from sensitive dismissals to pupil exclusions and parental complaints. David is also probably the most experienced safeguarding lawyer in the country. He founded the firm's Child Protection Unit (now known as the Safeguarding Unit) in 2015 which advises organisations either working or coming into contact with children. These include schools, universities, charities, churches, visitor attractions, sports clubs and the medical sector. David advises on the full range of safeguarding issues, from creating safer systems to handling live cases and carrying out retrospective reviews. He is particularly well known for his role in advising on the Southbank International Vahey case where he led the Farrer team in conducting the Independent Review of Hugh Davies QC.

David qualified as a solicitor in 1989.

Memberships & Accolades

David is listed as a Top recommended 2020, Employment lawyer in Spear's 500 Magazine 2021 edition.


"David has a superb analytical brain." (Chambers UK 2024)

"He deals with complex issues and is very client-centred." (Chambers UK 2024)

"David is an outstanding practitioner at the top of his game." (Chambers UK 2024)

"David Smellie – A figure of national importance as an expert, advisor and thought leader in safeguarding." (Legal 500 2023)

"David is simply exceptional and I count myself privileged to be able to approach him for his highly prized advice." (Chambers UK 2023)

"David is our go-to individual on critical issues." (Chambers UK 2023)

David Smellie is listed in the Hall of Fame for Education: Schools in the Legal 500 2022 Guide, and Band 1 for Employment: Employer in the Chambers UK 2022 Guide.

"David Smellie is an outstanding lawyer. Very good to work with – considerate, experienced, good strategically." (Legal 500 2022)

"David Smellie is amongst the best employment lawyers in the business. He is excellent with clients, brilliant lawyers and great tacticians. His team of associates are extremely hard working and responsive." (Legal 500 2022, Senior Executives)

"He is a very good lawyer who understands the schools sector and is pragmatic." (Chambers UK, Education: Institutions (Schools))

"David is very experienced in the field of safeguarding issues in education." (Chambers UK, Education: Institutions (Schools))

"He spots the issues and he has a really good perspective on what is and isn't important." "He is a delight to deal with and has a great strategic mind." (Chambers UK 2022, Employment: Employer)

"He's wise and experienced." "He's really fantastic." "If you've got something really tricky then he is your man." (Chambers UK 2021, Employment: Employer)

"His sector expertise around safeguarding is unrivalled and he provides invaluable pragmatic and straightforward advice." "He is very good at mapping out complex situations." (Chambers UK 2021, Education: Institutions (Schools))

"David Smellie’s safeguarding advice is the best you are likely to get." (Legal 500 2021, Education: Schools)

"David Smellie is superbly well versed in issues pertaining to abuse and safeguarding. His approach is careful, considerate and kind. I have every faith in his judgement. He is flexible and takes on suggestions to support the wider schools community. The safeguarding blog is a particular example as was his willingness to work with a number of interested parties to create a guide for schools about lessons learned from non-recent abuse." (Legal 500 2021, Education: Schools)

"Quite simply, Farrers has a reputation as the best and it is correct. David Smellie is master of all he surveys, the acknowledged expert on independent education in a practice built up over many years. Most of all, he has common sense and a good sense of humour. his management of his diary is exceptional." (Legal 500 2021, Education: Schools)

“Absolutely brilliant at senior executive work.” (Chambers UK, Senior Executive chapter)

“He’s personable, thoughtful and really cares about the outcome.” (Chambers UK, Schools chapter)


Co-author of Protecting Children and Adults from Abuse after Savile.

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