The Solicitors Regulation Authority has taken the unusual step of asking the High Court to strike solicitor Soophia Khan directly off the roll for not complying with orders to deliver up client files. A summary strike-off would avoid the need for a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, the court heard today.
Khan, a former chair of the Law Society civil justice committee, was automatically suspended in August after the SRA intervened in relation to her Leicester practice Sophie Khan & Co over suspicions of dishonesty. She later announced that the firm had been taken over by a charity called Just For Public Ltd.
The SRA, which last month obtained an injunction to stop Khan ‘unlawfully’ acting as a lawyer through JFP, alleged that Khan was in contempt by failing to comply with two High Court orders requiring her to deliver up client files.
At the start of a committal hearing this afternoon, the High Court was told that Khan had offered to undertake to comply with the orders.
After Mr Justice Leech told the court that he was ‘satisfied on liability’, discussion turned to sanction.
Fountain Court Chambers’ Rupert Allen, for the SRA, raised the ‘further issue of whether it would now be appropriate for the court to exercise its inherent supervisory jurisdiction on a summary basis to strike Ms Khan off the roll of solicitors’.
Allen said: ‘It is inconceivable that Ms Khan should be permitted to remain on the roll of solicitors in circumstances where she has been found to be in contempt in a manner that your lordship has indicated.’
It would not be in anyone’s interests ‘to embark on a set of disciplinary proceedings in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal when there is only one conceivable outcome where the solicitor is found to be in contempt. The order for striking off would be appropriate in this case quite apart from the sanction for contempt itself,’ he said.
Allen submitted that the gravity of the alleged contempt was made worse ‘by reason of Ms Khan’s status as an officer of the court and solicitor’.
He told the court he raised the strike-off as a secondary position ‘because clearly there will be disciplinary proceedings. If Ms Khan is not struck off by your lordship there will be disciplinary proceedings in which these contempt allegations will loom large.
‘The question is ultimately whether you are satisfied it is appropriate for the court to exercise its own jurisdiction over Ms Khan as an officer of the court and whether you are satisfied a striking off is appropriate to make on the basis of contempt. It would be vastly more efficient for the public purse and for Ms Khan'.
Allen told the court that 'ultimately it is in everyone's interests for there to be an appropriate disciplinary regulatory outcome for this case' and 'one can put it to bed without the need for further funds [or] necessary cost to the profession which may prove to be unnecessary if your lordship agrees it is inconsistent for someone to remain on the roll of solicitors'.
23ES’s Tim Grey, for Khan, told the court: ‘There is a part of some of the submissions made, a sense that it is the SRA who are entitled to decide what the sanction is. That is not the case. It is for the court to decide, not least because the issue of orders made were made by this court. The matter between Ms Khan and this court is she failed to comply and found liable in contempt. She accepts that.’
Grey said it was for the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, with all the information before it, to make any decision on striking off. ‘For this court to do it is premature and not the right thing to do on this occasion'. For the High Court to strike Khan off the roll ‘would be a shorthand and a shortcut’.
Grey told the court that 'what has been apparent from the challenges she has sought to make, her stated position has been she was uanable to comply with the orders at various points. Clearly she accepts she was wrong.' He added that there had been 'no mischief or disobedience to the court' and that Khan had submitted to the court at every available occasion save for one time due to ill health.
Mr Justice Leech reserved judgment. It was agreed that the SRA would attend office premises in Leicester on Monday to collect the files it needs, with Khan in attendance.
The court heard this morning that Khan has issued part 8 proceedings challenging the SRA's intervention. A hearing is listed to take place next month.
Soophia Khan was represented by Tim Grey, of 23ES, and Janes Solicitors. The SRA was represented by Rupert Allen, of Fountain Court Chambers, and Capsticks.