Helen Macfarlane

Helen is a partner in our Disputes team. Helen studied English and Politics for her BA and completed a Masters in Philosophy at Auckland before studying law at Oxford

She was admitted as a barrister in London before moving to New York where she worked as a litigation attorney for 15 years with a leading US and international law firm Shearman and Sterling, specialising in commercial litigation and international arbitration.

Helen came to Hesketh Henry with strong expertise in construction litigation, director obligations, insider trading and securities fraud and had represented both defendants and plaintiffs in class and derivative actions.  Since returning to New Zealand, she has expanded her construction law expertise, acting in leaky building cases (including a seminal High Court trial), Construction Contracts Act cases and providing advice relating to projects in the residential, commercial, energy and infrastructure sectors.  Most recently, Helen has leveraged her international experience to conduct and advise on investigations and negotiations in relation to projects funded by international funding institutions (such as the World Bank and JICA) in the Asia / Pacific region.  Helen provides up-front drafting advice in relation to residential and commercial construction projects and is familiar with NZS 3902, 3910, 3915 and 3916 as well as drafting bespoke contracts.  Complementing her construction expertise, Helen has developed an insurance practice focussing on professional indemnity insurance (in both the construction and legal sectors) and more generally in advising on general liability and material damage policies.  She has added New Zealand domestic arbitration, particularly in the valuation and commercial rent review areas, to her extensive international arbitration experience and has also provided sanctions advice in relation to doing business in Iran.

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Examples of work completed by Helen include:

  • Acting for one of New Zealand’s largest multi-disciplinary construction consulting companies in high value claims involving multiple parties and complex design, engineering and construction issues.  Includes ongoing representation in connection with a major multi-defendant leaky building claim.  Helen also advises this client on an ongoing, as-needed basis on contractual clauses and on issues arising from consortium projects in New Zealand and Asia (including in Bangladesh and VietNam) as well as on contractual/payment claim disputes with clients and/or sub-consultants.
  • Representing a major insurer providing drafting advice on a suite of construction contracts for use in the Christchurch rebuild.  Covers all aspects of drafting and risk analysis, including insurances required for construction projects.
  • Providing advice to a consultant regarding contractual terms of retention by a consortium in connection with a tender for a major PPP infrastructure project.
  • Providing advice to insurer on cover and potential claims in relation to Royal Commission of Inquiry into building failures caused by the Canterbury earthquakes; extensive work with engineers in connection with the same.
  • Successfully defending a project manager in seminal High Court trial relating to leaky building claims in a multi-unit residential development. The claim against our client was dismissed, with costs awarded against the plaintiffs.
  • Representing project managers in a High Court leaky building case.  Negotiated a settlement where our client paid nothing except its own costs.
  • Representing major architectural/engineering firm in multi-party residential leaky building case.  Negotiated early dismissal from the case for a nominal payment.
  • Representing project manager in leaky building case before WHRS.  Spear-headed negotiations on part of defendant group to achieve settlement where plaintiffs recovered less than half the amount originally claimed.
  • Representing clients in a number of Construction Contracts Act cases.  Helen has experience representing both claimants and respondents.
  • Advising insurers concerning claims of professional negligence/misconduct of Engineer to contract arising out of Construction Contracts Act claims relating to a roading project.
  • Advising insurers and defending a firm of solicitors against allegations of equitable fraud and breaches of fiduciary duty resulting from representations dating back to 1989.
  • Advising insurers and defending a firm of solicitors against allegations of breach of contract and negligence in relation to the transfer and development of a luxury property in Queenstown.
  • Representing a major property investor/management company in a commercial rent review arbitration involving complex valuation and geotechnical evidence.
  • Representing property management company in proceedings under the Declaratory Judgment Act arising out of an encumbrance dispute.
  • Advising a major national retailer in connection with resolving a long-standing lease dispute following the Christchurch earthquakes.  Helen achieved a negotiated settlement several months after becoming involved.
  • Representing a major consulting company in connection with a dispute with its landlord over termination of its lease.  Helen arranged for a fast-track mediation resulting in a commercial settlement approximately one month after she became involved.
  • Advice to group of companies with New Zealand parent on New Zealand’s sanctions regime in connection with doing business in Iran.
  • Advising and representing a European government pension fund in a dispute with property and casualty insurers in relation to a multi-hundred million dollar claim for damage to high rise commercial property.
  • Advising and representing major multi-national engineering firm in connection with international arbitration arising from contract dispute relating to construction of hydro-electric power plant in the Middle East.
  • Overseeing and conducting internal investigations in relation to the conduct of IFI funded infrastructure projects in the Asia / Pacific region and reporting to funders including the World Bank and JICA.
  • Representing insurers in complex multi-unit claims arising out of the Canterbury earthquakes.
  • Advising insurers in relation to policy response under professional indemnity, general liability and material damage polices.
  • Getting the Deal Through – Construction 2019 (Accreditation: Reproduced with permission from Law Business Research Ltd. This article was first published in Lexology Getting the Deal Through – Construction 2019 (Published: July 2019). For further information please visit

Insights & Opinion / Helen Macfarlane

Construction Framework Wide BW
Major milestone passed – NZS3910:2023 expected in time to fill Christmas stockings
As the most widely adopted standard form construction contract in NZ, NZS 3910 was more than ready for updated conditions given the changes in the industry since its last review in 2013.  After almos...
09.10.2023 Posted in Construction
A Landmark Change? – Proposed reform of the occupational regulation of engineers
Engineers engage in building work that is critical to public safety. Despite this, few restrictions are placed on who can carry out and supervise complex and specialised projects that require high levels of professional judgement, skill and technical competence.
07.04.2022 Posted in Construction
Proposed Reforms to Building Act and Regulations
There are major changes to the Building Act on the horizon that will impact the entire construction sector including manufacturers, builders, building consent authorities, consultants and many others ...
06.11.2020 Posted in Construction & Disputes
COVID-19: Industries interrupted: A call for clarity in respect of Business Interruption Cover
Understandably, businesses worldwide are looking for financial support to offset losses flowing from the restrictions governments have placed on how we can conduct business as part of global and local responses to control the spread of COVID-19.
13.05.2020 Posted in Business Advice & COVID-19 & Insurance
Construction contract
COVID-19: Impacts on Construction Contracts
New Zealand entered Covid-19 Alert Level 4 at 11.59pm on Wednesday 25 March.  Anyone not working in essential services is required to stay at home.  This restriction does not apply to building or co...
08.04.2020 Posted in Construction & COVID-19
COVID-19: Government signals infrastructure push for economic recovery
While New Zealanders play their part in eliminating the spread of COVID-19 by staying at home, the government has released details of its plans for the construction sector in a post COVID-19 New Zeala...
06.04.2020 Posted in Construction & COVID-19
law scale
ACP Cladding Update – Class Action Proposed
Media reports indicate that class action litigation in relation to ACP cladding is very likely.  A litigation funder has announced it will be funding a class action lawsuit for owners of buildings cl...
27.11.2019 Posted in Construction & Disputes