High Court rejects solicitor’s challenge to SRA intervention

Khan: Solicitor “appears unsuitable to carry on practice”, says judge

Sophie Khan, the solicitor jailed for defying court orders to hand over files to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), has now lost her challenge to the regulator’s decision to close her firm.

Sir Gerald Barling, sitting as a High Court judge, said the evidence indicated that she “appears to be unsuitable to carry on practice as a solicitor in any capacity”.

Describing Ms Khan’s attitude as one of “open defiance of and hostility towards the SRA as her professional regulator, and a lack of respect for the authority of the courts”, he said he had no confidence that Ms Khan would conduct any solicitors’ practice appropriately in the future.

“In the circumstances, whilst reminding myself of the caution to be exercised in relation to the draconian remedy of intervention, I have no hesitation in concluding that intervention here was and remains necessary and proportionate for the protection of clients and the public interest.”

Ms Khan specialised in actions against the state – particularly the police and the military – and often appeared in the national media. She ran Sophie Khan & Co in Leicester, with a branch office in Wimbledon, south London.

Last August, the SRA intervened in her practice, saying there was reason to suspect dishonesty on her part. She failed to comply with its demands, then formalised in court orders, to provide the firm’s papers and was jailed for six months for contempt at the start of this year.

Her challenge to the intervention failed on every ground after the court heard that there were multiple reasons for the SRA adjudication panel’s decision to intervene.

One concerned how she handled two actions against the police that in 2014 moved from her old firm, McMillan Williams (MW), where she had been an associate, to Sophie Khan & Co after she had set it up.

She gave MW undertakings over how she would deal with its claim for costs in respect of the cases but she did not hand over the money she should have done after settling the costs. A circuit judge last year ordered her to pay MW £79,000, adding that her evidence was “thoroughly evasive”. That ruling is under appeal too.

Another issue was Ms Khan’s failure to hand over to the SRA two client files following complaints made to the regulator, with the court in January 2021 once more questioning her evidence.

The panel also considered Ms Khan’s failure to comply with a Legal Ombudsman decision that went against her, as well as declaring on her professional indemnity insurance renewal form in January 2021 that she had not been subject of an investigation that led to adverse findings by any regulatory body or a civil judgment that could have a bearing on her professional standing.

The adjudication panel found that, although taken individually the issues identified would not necessarily lead to intervention, collectively they did.

Sir Gerald found no flaws in the panel’s decision, describing Ms Khan’s counsel as trying “to make bricks without straw”.

He went on: “When a solicitor defies orders of the court, not once but repeatedly, and when a solicitor systematically refuses to cooperate with professional regulators and fails to comply with requirements made by them in the exercise of their function, alarm bells ring loudly.”

There was also her “unsavoury conduct” around the costs claim, together with the “serious criticism” of her evidence by two judges “and the other indications of dishonesty which I have found to be valid”.

This all gave rise to “a justified suspicion of dishonesty and an absence of integrity”, making intervention a necessity.

There is believed to be only one successful High Court challenge to an intervention, the 2005 Sheikh case, and that was in any case overturned on appeal.

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