Citation: Imran Khan
“Graduations at DMU are an opportunity to bring into our university family talents from diverse fields and background who all hold something in common: they use what they have to add to the lives of others.
“The distinguished guest we honour now is a champion of the vulnerable and of those fighting to have their voices heard. He is a lawyer of immense stature within the British legal landscape, who has dedicated his talent and energies to tackling issues around racism, human rights, criminal justice, immigration and asylum, and anti-terrorism legislation. His tireless commitment to the Lawrence family – guiding them on their inspiring, courageous and determined pursuit of justice for their murdered son Stephen Lawrence – has been described as a defining moment for him, personally and professionally. It also changed the way British society looked at itself.
“Yet Imran Khan has said he couldn’t recommend his work as a job … Wryly weighing his achievements against the emotional scars, he has acknowledged that ‘the people you represent are in an awful place … I don’t see it as work, I don’t recommend it as a job; I recommend it as a vocation’. Perhaps those graduating today might also want to bear in mind that Imran Khan was given that ‘defining’ Stephen Lawrence case file just 18 months after he qualified – a ‘terrifying’ idea, he says, in retrospect. Nonetheless, it was a case whose progress, the young lawyer quickly came to understand, was being hampered by those meant to stand for justice. Ahead lay a long road: the fight for private prosecutions, for inquests, the Macpherson Inquiry identifying institutional racism, the struggle for criminal prosecution and for a police corruption inquiry.
“Two decades after the Macpherson report, Imran Khan QC is still fighting, representing the bereaved, survivors and relatives at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, demanding it examine whether authorities were again guilty of institutional racism. He represented the parents of Victoria Climbié, a child tortured and murdered by her guardians after coming to the UK from Côte d’Ivoire; her death led to a public inquiry and produced major changes in child protection policies. He represented the families of the 7/7 London bombers at inquest, and defended one of the first Britons jailed for terrorist offences after returning from Syria’s recent conflict.
“It’s said by some an ‘outsider status’ is reflected in the cases he takes; Khan was born in Pakistan in 1964, his family moving to London in 1968. They recall ‘tough times’: racially motivated assaults, a background of racial tension, acceptance that attacks were the norm. Today, to some, he is a hero: “On the Tube or train, someone will come up and shake my hand.” Others like less his involvement in ‘difficult’ business – like those cases connected to terrorism. It’s all part of the work, the vocation. What matters is justice.
“Imran Khan, your dedication has had a major influence on the criminal justice system, and restored our faith that just causes – and good lawyers – can help ordinary people hold authority to account, and can change things. Recently, DMU launched the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre to drive forward conversations that will shape and influence how we think about race and social justice. Your own work in the public good, your strength, pride and professionalism are each a source of inspiration for us and all our work for others; we are proud to honour you.”