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Imran Khan: A Profile

FRIDAY 24th January 2003

Imran Khan has worked with Stephen Lawrence's family for nearly a decade, guiding them on their tireless pursuit of justice for their son. Providing ethnic minorities with a legal voice remains a personal crusade for the lawyer, and Stephen's mother Doreen explains that "what happened to us really affected him too".

Racist institutions

As the country's best-known Asian solicitor, Khan has taken on some of its most intimidating institutions. The police and prison services he cites as racist and reactionary, and the Law Society he calls "pale, stale and male".

In Khan's hands, the judiciary system is an instrument for social change, and his progressive mission is rooted in his childhood.

Upbringing

Moving from Pakistan to East London at the age of four, Khan suffered racial taunts and attacks throughout his youth. Determined to take his place in the anti-racist movement, he resisted family calls to become a doctor and turned instead to the law.

Khan cut his legal teeth at Birnbergs, a firm famous for correcting such judicial miscarriages as those of the Birmingham Six and Derek Bentley. Eighteen months after Khan qualified as a solicitor, the Lawrence file landed on his desk.

In the face of the police's failure to bring criminal charges, Khan and the murdered teenager's family brought Britain's first private prosecution for murder. And when the trial collapsed, they pressed further for a government inquiry.

Macpherson Report

The ensuing Macpherson Report cited "institutionalised racism in the force", bringing apologies, procedural changes and vindication for the Lawrences. For Khan, it ensured that Stephen's death had some meaning, and a profound impact on the law in this country.

Now established in his own practice, Khan takes what he calls "impact cases", ones highlighting inequality and disadvantage. But, despite his high profile, he keeps "one foot on the ground" by spending a couple of evenings a month dishing out free legal advice at a West London centre.

Questionable motives?

He is accused variously of seeking kudos and financial incentive, deflecting attention from real abuses, even failing the Lawrence family.

But he undoubtedly provides a legal haven for the black and Asian communities around him, and bangs a loud and persistent drum for those who would otherwise go unheard.

As Doreen Lawrence describes her long-time lawyer, "Imran is my friend. Whatever the situation, I would always want him on my side."