Prominent solicitor Soophia Khan was today jailed for contempt for breaching two High Court orders requiring her to deliver up client files to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Handing down judgment in Court 7 of the Royal Courts of Justice this morning, Mr Justice Leech said he was satisfied that Khan was liable for contempt for breaching two orders made last September.
Mr Justice Leech said Khan’s conduct amounted to a ‘serious, contumacious, flouting of orders of the court’ and merited an immediate custodial sentence of a significant length.
He imposed three months for the breach of each order to run concurrently and three months to secure compliance with the orders in question.
He suspended three months of the sentence conditional upon Khan complying with the orders within six weeks of today’s judgment. If she fails to comply with either order during that period, she will serve the second three months of the sentence. She will be entitled to unconditional release after serving half the sentence under section 258 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. ‘In practice, this means that she will be released after serving six weeks in prison if she complies with the orders before the end of that period and after three months if she fails to do so.’
At a committal hearing last month, the Solicitors Regulation Authority asked the High Court to exercise its inherent supervisory jurisdiction to strike Khan off the roll.
However, Mr Justice Leech said today that he was not satisfied that this was an exceptional case in which the court should exercise its jurisdiction to strike a solicitor off the roll. 'In my judgment, it is more appropriate for the SRA to take proceedings before the SDT in the normal way if it wishes to secure an order that Ms Khan be struck off,' he said.
Mr Justice Leech reminded Khan that she is entitled to appeal against the findings of contempt as of right and without permission.
The judge delivered his contempt judgment just before lunchtime. He then signed a warrant for committal, placing Khan in custody of tipstaff officers, who were present throughout today's hearing. Khan was granted bail within the confines of the court at lunchtime on condition she returned to court 7 at 2.10pm.
After lunch, 23ES barrister Tim Grey, for Khan, made submissions for a stay of Mr Justice Leech's order. He told the court that Khan consented to surrender her passport, reside at an address in Leicester and to report weekly to the local police station. 'In the circumstances, any risk of granting stay are wholly limited and can easily be guarded against by provision of these conditions,' he said.
Grey added that there was a pending part 8 application in relation to the SRA's intervention, due to be heard later this month. 'It is not impossible for someone to be produced from custody to deal with that but it is far, far easier for that to be properly dealt with and properly litigated.' It would also be easier for Khan to purge her contempt 'if she is at liberty'.
However, Mr Justice Leech refused an order of stay. At 3.30pm he signed a new warrant for committal.
Fountain Court Chambers' Rupert Allen, for the SRA, sought permission to appeal in relation to the strike-off application. However, Mr Justice Leech refused permission to appeal and said the SRA 'will have to satisfy the Court of Appeal'.
Update (13 January): Janes Solicitors, which represents Soophia Khan, told the Gazette that the firm is currently considering all options open to Khan in respect of the findings by Mr Justice Leech and the sanction imposed, including an appeal to the Court of Appeal.