SDT slams Khan’s “reprehensible” claim that jailing was good for profession

Khan: All allegations upheld

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has labelled as “reprehensible” the argument by Sophie Khan that being sent to prison for contempt of court enhanced, rather than diminished, the reputation of the profession.

Ms Khan, also known as Soophia, was jailed for six months in January for breaching two court orders to hand over her firm’s papers to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) after it intervened in her practice.

The SRA closed down her firm, Leicester-based Sophie Khan & Co, in August 2021, saying there was “reason to suspect dishonesty” on her part.

She was struck off in the summer but the full decision of the SDT was only published last week.

The hearing proceeding in her absence after the SDT refused her application late the night before for an adjournment. It noted that she had had “ample opportunity” to apply before then.

It also had regard to “the gravity of the allegations, Ms Khan’s history of non-engagement, her failure to file an answer timeously or to comply with any of the tribunal’s directions notwithstanding an unless order and the fact that her application to vacate the proceedings, apart from totally lacking merit had been made at the last minute”.

Ms Khan qualified in 2006. For 17 months to December 2013, she was an assistant solicitor at what was then McMillan Williams (MW) before setting up her firm.

The 11 allegations Ms Khan faced fell into three broad categories. All were found proven.

The first six, in relation to each of which she was also found to have acted dishonestly, concerned her conduct of two actions against the police that she took from MW to her new firm, having given undertakings about protecting MW’s costs.

It was only in 2015, when the clients asked MW to take back their cases, that they discovered Ms Khan had accepted settlements for substantially lower sums than she had advised their claims were worth.

She also failed to inform them of the offer to settle costs on their behalf and did not obtain their authority before doing so.

As well as breaching the undertakings given to MW, she retained all of the £115,000 in costs paid (MW had sought £80,000). In order to justify this, Ms Khan fabricated documents to show that she had provided the clients with costs information.

Further, the SDT found that Ms Khan failed to cooperate with the investigation it carried out, as well as one by the Legal Ombudsman, over complaints made by another client. She did not pay the award the ombudsman made and refused to hand over the file.

The final set of findings concerned her failure to comply with court orders that led to her jailing for contempt, the continued nature of which the SDT described as “extraordinary”.

Ms Khan did take part in the hearing when it came to mitigation and costs, but the tribunal gave her mitigation – much of which it said sought to go behind the findings already made – short shrift.

The SDT also recorded: “Ms Khan submitted that her committal arose out of her protection of her clients, not by causing harm to any clients. The clients did not want their files released to anyone.

“Accordingly, she had caused no harm to her clients. She had caused no damage to the reputation of the profession, but had in fact done the opposite. The tribunal rejected that assertion in its entirety.”

It concluded that Ms Khan was “motivated by financial gain” and sought to subvert any investigation into complaints about her service. The SDT “did not accept” that she was motivated by a desire to protect her clients.

She had, it went on, “breached the trust placed in her by her clients to act in their best interests and had breached the trust placed in her by MW to pay MW its share of the costs settlement monies.

“Ms Khan was an experienced solicitor who had purposefully acted in flagrant breach of her regulatory obligations.”

Her assertion that her conduct had caused no harm was “reprehensible and demonstrated a complete lack of insight and remorse”.

“Furthermore, Ms Khan had caused immense damage to the reputation of the profession… The misconduct was further aggravated as it was deliberate, calculated and repeated and had continued over a period of time.” She had abused her position in relation to MW’s costs.

“The tribunal did not find that there were any features that mitigated Ms Khan’s misconduct,” it concluded.

“She demonstrated a complete lack of insight and contrition. Indeed, it was her position that being sent to prison for contempt of court enhanced, rather than diminished, the reputation of the profession… The tribunal found that assertion to be reprehensible.”

The SDT added that it would have struck her off just for the refusal to comply with court orders. It said it agreed with the comments of Sir Gerald Barling, in a judgment earlier this year refusing Ms Khan’s challenge to the intervention, that she was “unsuitable to carry on practice as a solicitor in any capacity”.

The SDT also ordered that she pay the SRA’s costs of just under £110,000.

    Readers Comments

  • Chris says:

    Absurd and unjust costs award against an individual no longer allowed to practise.

  • Solicitor Advocate says:

    I usually deprecate the SDT’s costs, but in this case they are entirely deserved.

    Khan’s actions were beyond the pale: she deliberately acted dishonesty, and created vast amounts of work for the SRA, the High Court, and the police. It is a shame that financial penalties are all that are available: she should have been tarred and feathered to set an example.

  • Solicitor Advocate2 says:

    Self inflicted

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