England and Wales' first and only Afghan-born female barrister has revealed that a solicitor asked her to stop working on a case because the client wanted a white male barrister instead.
Rehana Popal tweeted this week that she had "Just had a solicitor call to tell me that a case that I had previously been instructed on, which was adjourned administratively due to lack of judges was now re-listed for December". However, "the client has said he doesn’t want an Asian female but a white male barrister". She said the solicitor had asked if she "could please return the papers".
Popal, a human rights specialist at 10 King's Bench Walk chambers in London, said the "saddest part" was that she was not surprised. "It’s not the first time this has happened and I’m sure it won’t be the last". She said it was "Great to know that no matter what you do in life, you’ll still be judged by the colour of your skin and gender".
"The cherry on the cake", added Popal, was that the client "wants a full refund".
10 KBW had been "great", said Popal, and "despite the potential loss of work", took a no tolerance approach and refused to provide a (male, white) barrister to appease the solicitor's racist client.
Popal told RollOnFriday that she would not name the solicitor or his firm. "As much as I disagree with how the solicitor handled the request, I appreciate the honesty because it has led to this conversation and we can only go forward from here". He was also "very apologetic", and although he "could have have been firmer with the client by either refusing to accede to their request or refusing to represent the client", she was "sympathetic" to his position. "They ultimately have a business to run".
Popal said it was not the first time that she has encountered racism at work, although in the past it has come directly from clients. "I’ve had a client say to me in conference 'all Asian lawyers are shit, especially the women'. That was extremely upsetting and difficult to deal with, as it was direct racism".