Imran Khan

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This was a BLD interview with Debo Nwauzu in October 2006. Read more about Imran Khan in the Directory


Our lawyer of the Month is Imran Khan. Imran was born in Pakistan in 1964 and moved from Pakistan to London in 1968 when he was  nearly four years old. He grew up in Upton Park in East London. Imran read law at the University of East London, then known as the North East London Polytechnic and graduated in 1987. He did his Solicitor’s Finals at the College of Law, London and began his articles (now known as training contract) at B. M Birnberg & Co, the Human Rights law firm who handled famous cases of miscarriage of justice such as the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four and Derek Bentley.


After completing his articles and qualifying as a solicitor in 1991, Imran joined JR Jones Solicitors in Ealing, West London to set up and head their Criminal Department. He was handling general criminal matters and was years later made a partner in the firm. Imran found this post exciting and challenging and he was heavily involved in the free advise unit in Southall where he co-ordinated a Saturday free advise session, involving various barristers.

Eighteen months after qualification, in April 1993, Imran had what he describes as the “defining aspect” of his existence. He was given the Stephen Lawrence file which was to have a tremendous impact on him professionally and personally. Imran was initially reluctant to take on the matter as the Lawrences were in South East London and he was in West London.

Contrary to many reports, the Stephen Lawrence case started, not as a complaint against the Police, but as a request for information by the Lawrences about the death of their son. Imran’s first letter to the police specifically requested information on the Lawrence family’s behalf but he was stonewalled and the police failed to properly respond to the request. It was not until 1997 after the Inquest into Stephen Lawrence’s death that a complaint was filed.

As no charges were brought against anyone for Stephen’s murder, the Lawrence family, with the help of Imran and Michael Mansfield QC, brought Britain's first private prosecution for a racist murder (and the fourth ever private prosecution for murder). That trial however collapsed and the family pressed for a government inquiry that resulted in the Macpherson Report which was published on the 24th February 1998. In his report, Lord Macpherson cited "institutionalised racism” in the police force and the report resulted in unprecedented apologies, procedural changes and also vindication for the Lawrences in their unrelenting pursuit for justice. Imran is to work with Stephen Lawrence's family for several years, guiding them on their inspiring, courageous and tireless pursuit of justice for their son.

In 2000, Imran left JR Jones to set up Imran Khan & Partners based in Holborn, Central London handling predominantly what Imran calls "impact cases”. These are cases which make impact not only for the individual clients but also affect the wider population too. He promised to take “on cases that are dead and buried, resurrecting them and trying to make an impact with them". Imran found such cases an inventive way to change the law as there are no protocols and there was no market or other avenue to address such cases. Also such cases involve different strands of the law and a different degree of expertise is needed to handle them.

Other famous cases by Imran included representing the family of the 19 year old Asian youth, Zahid Mubarek, who was beaten to death in March 1999 by a fellow prisoner (a known violent and racist prisoner who revered the killers of Stephen Lawrence). Zahid was kept in the same prison cell with that prisoner and murdered by him six hours before he was due to be released from Feltham Young Offenders Institution. Imran also represented Mr & Mrs Climbie, the parents of Victoria Climbie, the nine old child who died on the 25 February 2000 following systemic and horrendous abuse by her aunt and her aunt’s lover.

Much of Imran’s “impact cases” are done free of charge, especially in the early stages as there is no state help available. The work he did on the Lawrence case was done free of charge for the first three years. "That's why I've gone grey," says 36-year-old Khan. "You end up working longer and longer hours." He cross-subsidises these work with more mainstream civil liberties cases for which there is state funding, such as immigration, actions against the police and by the criminal defence work he still does.

According to Imran the main difficulty with “impact cases” is the lack of any formal rules of engagement. Also that some people view him as a publicist and it would be good to work with others to change the rules and he admits that the lack of support is hard and he cannot formalise the protocols in “impact” cases on his own.

Imran is straight talking and has described the Police and the prison service as racist and reactionary, and the Law Society as "pale, stale and male".

He has been a member of numerous anti-racist groups and campaigns over the last 20 years, including the National Civil Rights Movement set up in the aftermath of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. Imran has spoken and written widely on issues of racism and the Stephen Lawrence case, human rights, criminal justice, immigration/asylum and anti-terrorism legislation both in the UK and Europe. From a personal point of view, Imran recalls being subjected to racial taunts and attacks throughout his youth.

In April 2001 he guest edited The Big Issue Magazine and was pleased to highlight issues around policing and racism. During 2002-2003 Imran was the Immigration law representative on the Law Society Council, which he described as “an awful experience, bureaucratic, did not match the real world, insular and self-protective. There is little discussion about the outside world and the experience is totally soul-destroying. I had too much work to do and could not bear it and left”.

In June 2003 he gave evidence to a Committee of the Privy Council on the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 as part of a submission by the Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR). In December 2004 he gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on the issue of Anti-Terrorism legislation and Social Cohesion as part of a submission by FAIR.

In 1999 he was named the Legal Personality of the Year award by The Lawyer Newspaper. In the same year he was named the Ethnic Minority Multi-cultural Personality of the Year Award (jointly with Michael Mansfield QC). In 2005 Imran received an award of excellence from The Muslim News.

Imran has also received Honorary Doctorates from Oxford Brookes University, the University of East London, Staffordshire University and Wolverhampton University in recognition of his work. He has been offered numerous others but feels that he is currently unable to accept anymore.

He is Visiting Lecturer at South Bank University and was commissioned to co-author a practitioner’s guide to empowering victims of racism but is now so overwhelmed with work that he is unable to do this.

Doreen Lawrence is quoted to have described Imran thus: "Imran is my friend. Whatever the situation, I would always want him on my side."

Below is part of our interview with Imran:

BLD: How has the Stephen Lawrence case changed your life as you took the case on in 1992 when you were only 18 months qualified?

IK: It has changed every aspect of my life. I now have the ability to do things I never imagined. I have access to people and places I didn’t think I’d ever see. The profile from the case gives me a foot in the door. I get respect for the work I have done because I’m known and associated with a case that has made such an impact. As a result I now have access to cases I never thought I would have.

BLD: How do you cope with the media attention following, and since the Stephen Lawrence case?

IK: Media attention can be a gift or an albatross, you have to grin and bear it. 90% of journalists are trying to do their job. Only 10% have no respect for what you do which is a shame as lawyers and journalists get a bad press. Media attention can be used to advance cases. I was very shy and hated it but it can advance your client’s case. The negative side is that the media can be incredibly lazy; I get calls every day for the sound bite which can change the way your case is perceived and can disrupt your daily life. My view is: use the media but keep control and set boundaries. 

BLD: How do you find the time to do so much, including taking on many “impact cases” and being the Senior Partner at Imran Khan & Partners?

IK: I do not really have enough hands. I am constantly being accused of not being available as you work on priority on a daily basis and the number one thing is the client.

BLD: If you were to choose a profession other than law, what would it be and why?

IK: I was destined to be a doctor. My parents wanted me to become a doctor so it would make my family happy. However I felt that lawyers can change things and doctors can’t. I would like to go back and achieve it. Besides becoming a doctor would make my parents happier.

BLD: What was the best career advice you were given?

IK: By my parents. They told me I can achieve whatever I want to do.

BLD: What was the best career advice you will give to other lawyers and budding lawyers?

IK: The same as my parents told me. There may be obstacles but believe in yourself.

BLD: Who is the person you most admire (dead or alive) and why?

IK: There are so many. However, for me clients that have lost loved ones and continue to fight for others without feeling for themselves. I have no idea how they do it, I know I couldn’t cope like them. To list just one, Doreen Lawrence is probably the one who continues to inspire me – totally selfless.

BLD: Tell us your professional high point(s).

IK: The outcome of the Lawrence Inquiry, it was the most amazing feeling.

BLD: What was your worst case/worst moment as a lawyer?

IK: The Lawrence case. The day the private prosecution was thrown out. I was numb and we had to do a press conference. It was the day Doreen collapsed for the first time. I felt a complete sense of failure.

BLD: What was the most famous/interesting case(s) you have handled to date?

IK: The Lawrence case.

BLD: What are you most passionate/happiest about?

IK: My work. I really enjoy what I do.

BLD: What are your dislikes?

IK: Hypocrisy. When people know there is something wrong and can’t admit it.

BLD: Do you have any professional regrets?

IK: I wish we had succeeded in the Lawrence private prosecution.

BLD: If you could rule the world for a day what would you change/do?

IK: Re-distribute the wealth and change the way we make wealth and who gets it.