The Law Society has removed the Chair of the Civil Justice Committee from her position and barred her from holding any roles at the organisation for five years.
Sophie Khan was expelled after a senior officer and two policy advisers alleged that she bullied them.
RollOnFriday can reveal that the extraordinary scrap began when Khan complained in October 2017 that a senior officer had discriminated against her. We are currently unable to identify the officer due to thinly-veiled legal threats made by the Law Society, which appears very keen for the details of the debacle not to be known.
When an internal investigation exonerated the senior officer, Khan complained that the probe should have been conducted by an independent, external body. That complaint was also rejected.
The senior officer then complained that Khan had bullied and harassed her by making her complaint in an inappropriate manner. In August 2019, a three-person Council Members’ Conduct Committee produced a report which agreed with the senior officer. Last week the Law Society Council adopted its recommendations and booted Khan from her position as Chairman of the Civil Justice Committee.
The Conduct Committee said Khan discriminated against the senior officer by referring to her as "a white woman" in an email. Khan had written, "in [counsel's] eyes as an ethnic minority solicitor I must be the one who is lying, even though I am a solicitor, as opposed to [the senior officer] as a white woman, in a position of responsibility who must be believed without any shadow of a doubt".
Khan also bullied and harassed the senior officer, said the Conduct Committee, by sending email correspondence to the Law Society's Ethnic Minority Lawyers’ Division (EMLD) which related to Khan's grievance against the senior officer. And, it said, Khan was a bully for commenting in a phone call with the EMLD's Diversity Manager that she didn't think the senior officer should be holding her particular position in the Law Society.
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Two policy advisers said that Khan bullied them, too. The paid staff, employed to support the Civil Justice Committee's work (which is to promote the improvement of civil litigation and dispute resolution), made multiple allegations.
Khan told them to provide the Civil Justice Committee with policy briefing documents five working days in advance of meetings, to prevent papers from arriving too late for committee members to read them. The policy advisers said her demand constituted bullying. On another occasion, Khan initially refused their request to cancel a policy meeting because one of them was away from work, which the advisers said amounted to bullying. And they claimed that Khan's criticism that a policy document they had drafted was "substandard" comprised bullying.
The Conduct Committee agreed with the pair's other allegations that Khan bullied them when she copied David Greene, the then Chair of the Law Society’s Legal Affairs and Policy Board, into her email addressing their 'substandard' report, and when she sent an email to the Civil Justice Committee attaching a copy of their complaints about her.
As a result, said a spokesman for the Law Society, the Council decided "the committee chair be removed with immediate effect from their Law Society role". It also ruled that Khan "will not be eligible for appointment, nomination, selection or election in any Law Society role or capacity for a period of 5 years”.
It follows the farcical failure of Joe Egan, the last Law Society President, to remove Khan from her position in 2018.
But the battle is not over. Khan, who has reported herself to the SRA in light of the ruling, told RollOnFriday that the Law Society had got it wrong, and that she is going to seek a Judicial Review. "I will now be issuing judicial review proceedings against the Panel Report's findings and seek an Order that the recommendations be quashed", she said.
The affair has also shone a light on the Law Society's problem with retaining staff. All three individuals who complained about Khan have left the organisation, after working there for less than two years.