Authors:Fiona Bawdon
Last updated:2023-09-18
Claims that Sadiq Khan’s former human rights firm ‘was worth millions’ queried by lawyers
Labour’s London mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan (pictured), walked away from significant wealth when he gave up legal aid practice to enter parliament, according to a newspaper interview with the south London MP.
Khan was an equity partner at the human rights firm Christian Khan before being elected in 2005 as MP for Tooting. He had trained at the firm and was mentored by founder Louise Christian.
However, a suggestion by the author of the Observer profile that ‘he could be a rich man if he wanted to be’ has been dismissed by legal aid lawyers.
According to the largely sympathetic article, when Khan left the 50-employee firm, it ‘was worth several million pounds’ and he thought he was entitled to a substantial payout as a result.
The feature’s author, Carole Cadwalladr, wrote: ‘Khan felt he should have had some of the firm’s value. His lawyer told him to litigate. He refused and the net result was he walked away with nothing. “Friends have said it was a foolish thing to do,” he admits.’
Cadwalladr added: ‘It’s not to be underestimated … walking away from several million pounds … but in the end, it was his choice not to pursue it. “It’s never been about the money,” he says. And I think you have to believe him. He could be a rich man if he wanted to be.’
Khan’s departure prompted a rift with his former mentor. However, Louise Christian, a Labour party member and Legal Action columnist, declined to comment, other than to confirm she doesn’t recognise his version of events, adding that she planned to vote for him in the forthcoming mayoral election
Others in the profession reject the suggestion that Christian Khan could have been worth millions in 2005.
A senior figure at another large London legal aid firm described Khan’s claims as ‘very odd. I doubt Christian Khan even had any goodwill. That disappeared from legal aid books long ago. We are entirely dependent on individuals who take their goodwill with them. The only real item is work in progress.’
He added that the disagreement over what Khan should have received ‘suggests that, like many firms, they had no partnership deed. How foolish!’
The firm, which was known for its groundbreaking work, was founded 30 years ago by Christian and Michael Fisher (who also founded Fisher Meredith). None of its partners was required to put equity into the firm when taking up their roles.
In her column for this month’s Legal Action (written before the Observer article appeared), Christian recalls the firm’s straitened beginnings in 1985, including the difficulties of acting for 49 Liverpool councillors threatened with being surcharged, without any funding for the case.
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Fisher, who died earlier this year, left Christian Fisher in 2002 and the firm was renamed to reflect Khan’s having been made an equity partner. It continued to do almost exclusively legal aid work from an office in central London. Christian, in turn, left the partnership in 2010 and is now a consultant with the Public Law Project. Christian Khan merged with Imran Khan & Partners in 2012. Neither of its founding partners, Fisher or Christian, received a payout from the partnership when they left.