Afghan-born junior barrister asked to return case after client requested ‘a white male’

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By Legal Cheek on

‘This was an unexpected and upsetting event’, says Rehana Popal

Rehana Popal

The first practising female Afghan-born barrister in England and Wales has taken to Twitter to reveal that she was asked to return a case because her client wanted to be represented by “a white male”.

Rehana Popal, a junior barrister at London’s 10 King’s Bench Walk, explained she had received a call from a solicitor yesterday evening to say that her client “doesn’t want an Asian female but a white male barrister”.

In a further tweet, the immigration and civil law specialist wrote that 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”.

Coming to the UK as a refugee from Afghanistan when she was a child, Popal was unable to speak any English. She was raised on a London council estate and later studied international politics at City’s School of Arts and Social Sciences. She remained at City, first completing the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), followed by the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), and in 2013 became the first Afghan national to be called to the bar by Inner Temple.

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“This was an unexpected and upsetting event”, Popal told Legal Cheek. “It reminds me again of the importance of promoting diversity at all levels of the legal system. As much as I disagree with how the solicitor handled this, I appreciate the honesty because it has led to this conversation. We can only go forward from here”.

Unsurprisingly, lawyers were left collectively stunned by Popal’s tweets. Cloisters‘ barrister Chris Milsom responded simply with “wow”, while David Hughes, a barrister at 30 Park Place, wrote: “This shouldn’t happen”. Others were equally shocked:

Despite being urged to report the matter to the regulator, Popal told us:

“I don’t plan on taking any action against the solicitor. The solicitor was very reluctant and apologetic. The request was coming for the client, not the solicitor. However, I do wish the solicitor had done more.”

UPDATE: 15:51

The Law Society’s president, Christina Blacklaws, has now issued the following statement to Legal Cheek:

“We cannot comment on an individual case. What we can be clear about is that solicitors must not discriminate unlawfully against anyone on the grounds of any protected characteristic. A solicitor should refuse their client’s instruction if it involves the solicitor in a breach of the law or the code of conduct. Where a solicitor realises they have breached the code they may have a duty to report themselves to the regulator.”

UPDATE: 16:19

A spokesperson for Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) told us: “We take all allegations of potential discrimination seriously. If we receive strong evidence that a solicitor or firm might have failed to meet high standards we expect of them, we will investigate and take appropriate action.”

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