The High Court has granted the Solicitors Regulation Authority access to a firm’s documents after the business and its owner were subject to intervention earlier this year.
The regulator had tried to engage with Soophia Khan, owner of Leicester practice Sophie Khan & Co Limited, with a view to its intervention agent gaining access to the files. In an application to the court last month, the SRA sought to exercise its statutory powers to search for and seize documents, and redirect communications addressed to the firm.
According to a ruling, Mr Justice Adam Johnson said it was ‘not really open’ to Khan herself to determine how the practice documents should be dealt with and not open to her to communicate with former clients.
‘The SRA gave notice to Ms Khan and to her firm requiring the production or delivery up of practice documents, as it was entitled to do,’ said the judge. ‘[At the time of intervention] Those were all matters which from that point on came to be matters within the control and scope of authority of the SRA.’
Khan has been a regular presence in the media commenting on legal matters and came to prominence specialising in actions against the state. She is also a former chair of the Law Society’s civil justice committee.
Following the intervention, which was on the grounds of suspected dishonesty, she announced on Twitter that the firm had been taken over by a charity called Just for Public Ltd, and that client work ‘continues as normal’. She told a business journal that she had been able to transfer her business and employed two support staff. During the course of the hearing, Khan said there was no problem with her practising certificate being suspended as she was able to ‘wear other hats’ so clients could effectively be dealt with.
The judge said the firm’s clients had ongoing matters and were entitled to support and advice from an appropriately qualified solicitor – which Khan was not in a position to provide.
He said the arrangements relating to Just for Public were ‘entirely opaque and difficult to understand’ to be relied on. The submission that the charity was entitled to conduct reserved legal activities ‘raises more concerns than it alleviates’, added the judge.
In addition to granting the SRA application, he ordered costs of £35,000 in favour of the regulator.