Soophia Khan’s bid to strike out the vast majority of the allegations of misconduct against her has been rejected by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which today heard that she acted ‘dishonestly’ in settling two former clients’ damages claims against the police without their knowledge.
The high-profile solicitor, who was jailed for contempt of court in January, faces 12 allegations brought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, including that she breached an undertaking to her former firm to protect their position when settling clients’ costs claims.
Khan – who again did not appear and was unrepresented before the SDT – sought to strike out those allegations and others relating to her alleged failure to cooperate with the Legal Ombudsman and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, as well as the High Court’s findings of contempt.
However, the tribunal rejected her application to strike out 10 of the 12 allegations and decided to hear the SRA’s case against Khan in her absence.
Khan, 42, has been embroiled in a long-running row with the SRA, which intervened into her Leicester-based practice Sophie Khan & Co almost a year ago and has since taken her to the High Court on several occasions.
In October, the regulator sought to gain access to the firm’s files and in November obtained an injunction to prevent her from ‘unlawfully’ acting as a lawyer through a charity called Just for Public.
A warrant was issued for her arrest that month after she failed to attend court to answer allegations of contempt, which were found proved and saw Khan sentenced to up to six months’ imprisonment.
Khan mounted an unsuccessful appeal against her custodial sentence and also challenged the SRA’s intervention, which the High Court held was ‘necessary and proportionate for the protection of clients’.
An eight-day hearing before the tribunal was due to begin yesterday, but was delayed after Khan filed an 11th-hour application to adjourn the case – which was refused.
Rupert Allen, for the SRA, told the SDT that six of the allegations against Khan relate to her representation of two men who initially instructed London firm McMillan Williams, where Khan worked as an associate before she left to set up her Leicester-based firm Sophie Khan & Co in 2013.
The tribunal heard that the claims of both clients – who moved their instructions to Sophie Khan & Co – were settled without their consent and ‘at a level lower than those clients had been led to believe their claims were worth’.
This caused the two clients ‘significant prejudice’, Allen argued, as they were deprived of the ability to make an informed decision about the conduct of their claims and were also exposed to a ‘potential costs liability’.
Allen said Sophie Khan & Co settled the subsequent costs claims ‘in breach of an undertaking’ to McMillan Williams, which had a ‘significant amount of work in progress on the case’, before Khan paid a £100,000 cheque directly into her firm’s office account.
She also ‘fabricated certain documents which purport to show contemporaneous notification of the costs [claimed by Sophie Khan & Co] to the clients’, Allen told the tribunal, adding that ‘these were produced in order to mislead the SRA’. In relation to those six allegations, the SRA argues that ‘Khan’s conduct was dishonest’, Allen said.
Khan is further alleged to have failed to cooperate with the SRA and the Legal Ombudsman in relation to complaints made by a third former client, failed to comply with a court order obtained by the SRA for production of documents and failed to hand over files as required during the SRA’s intervention and in breach of two High Court orders.
The hearing continues.