Sonal Keay

Called 2005

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The Type of Cases I Defend In

-Houses in Multiple Occupation cases (commonly failure to licence, breaches of regulations)

-Tradings Standards cases (from counterfeit goods, sale of tobacco to general product regulations breaches)

-Licensing Law (Transport for London and private hire vehicle licensing)

If you are thinking of instructing me, whether as a solicitor or on a Direct Access basis please take some time to read more about me, the Case Studies of my work and the interview conducted with me.

Cost-Effective Help

If you are looking to instruct me on a direct access basis but cannot afford full representation, I can help you in cost-effective ways. Sometimes clients want help at the beginning of a case, or at the end of a case, and they prefer to do everything in between themselves, once I have given them a ‘road map’ for their case.

About Me:

I am an experienced barrister and I care very, very deeply about the cases I take on. I specialise in defending people and businesses against council/local authority prosecutions.

I occasionally take on other types of cases where I can make a difference. You can read more about some of my cases below, in Case Studies.

The reason I am a defence, rather than a prosecution barrister, is that I do not like to see institutions throwing their weight around. I believe in holding these institutions to account. In this day and age in particular, as councils are underfunded, shortcuts are taken by prosecutors and because legal aid is rarely available, they get away with it.

I am frequently instructed to represent landlords and lettings agents in HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) cases where they are being prosecuted by the local authority for a Failure to License a HMO or where breaches of Management Regulations are involved.

A local authority prosecution involves a niche area of criminal law with a civil law overlap.

I have extensive experience of both. People who have been instructing me regularly come to me for my attention to detail, my “rottweiler”  approach to my work, my lateral thinking and my advocacy.

Case Studies

HMO Cases:

South-East England

HL was facing 7 charges relating to his HMO, which was a large property converted into four flats. (s.257 HMO) He had been advised by another barrister to plead guilty to all 7 charges.

I advised him that not only had the prosecution failed to make their case out on the evidence, but that he also had a good ‘reasonable excuse’ defence.

I attempted to negotiate with the Prosecution, pointing out their manifold evidential difficulties but received no satisfactory response. So we were forced to go to trial.

At the trial, he was acquitted of all charges, on precisely the basis I had pointed out to them and as a result the council had to pay the entirety of my fees, as the Court agreed with me that a prosecution should never have been brought.


AM ran a successful food delivery business and assisted his staff in finding accommodation. AM considered himself a prudent and kind business owner; the local authority formed the view that he was overcrowding the property and had committed a number of HMO offences in the process.

I reviewed the prosecution bundle and formed the view that there were serious evidential difficulties. I took my client’s instructions, negotiated with the council and they dropped all charges against him.


A lettings agent had let a property in the normal course of events to two friends. Or so it thought. The council alleged that my client, the lettings agent, had connived with the two tenants to enter into a ‘rent-to-rent’ and had not applied for a licence.

In support of their case, the council produced emails and letters from the tenant to the lettings agency which appeared to say that there had, in fact, been such an agreement. The lettings agency denied receiving these emails. Both the lettings agent and the two tenants were charged. The council (rightly) thought that they would blame each other, and hoped that this would sink them both.

I cross-examined the tenants and after a day-long trial, my client was acquitted.

Private Hire Vehicle / Transport for London Licensing Cases

My client, a taxi driver, was worried about losing his livelihood after being convicted for driving without due care and attention. He asked me to represent him at his sentencing hearing for the driving offence and thereafter for his licence with Transport for London.

After interviewing him, I realised there was strong mitigation available and that the prosecution case was not as strong as they thought it was.  I put this before the Court and the Court agreed, stating “we hope you are back on the road as soon as possible.”

Representations were made to Transport for London and my client kept his licence.

Defending a Claim against the Insurance Company

This was a case where I agreed to represent a client who came to me desperate, as he had been unable to find help anywhere else.

His mother had been mugged and having had jewellery taken, he put in a claim on his household insurance. In support of that claim he put in photos of the jewellery, but the insurance company pointed out that the photos were taken after the mugging, and accused him of fraud. The insurance company asked him whether the photos were of the jewellery taken and he replied that they were the very same.

My client, outraged that he had paid insurance premiums for years, fiercely denying he had been fraudulent, took the insurance company to court, himself. The insurance company threatened him with many thousands of pounds in costs even if he withdrew his claim, so he came to me, very worried.

After interviewing him, I realised that he was one of those people who are just terrible at communicating, especially under stress. I also realised that the word for ‘similar’ was the same word for ‘same’ in his language. His language did not make the distinction that English does.

And so we won in Court, the Judge remarking that he was ‘the worst witness he had ever seen.’

My Favourite Criminal Case

Every criminal barrister has a small number of favourite and memorable cases. My favourite one (and there are a few) was about a man who got very upset when his car got clamped at the petrol station. He got so upset that he threatened to blow the petrol station up. He insisted that he was never going to do anything of the sort in his defence, but understandably, armed police were called and a large area of East London was evacuated.

The evidence against him at trial was CCTV footage showing my irate client bringing the nozzle of the petrol hose near something in his hand. That ‘something’ was a lighter. A member of staff provided a statement saying that he had seen my client sparking the lighter.

The 5 day trial turned on the issue of whether my client had in fact, sparked his lighter. (That would have established an intent) Everything turned on the cross-examination of the member of staff.

One of my favourite things to do is people-watching. Luckily, I was outside when the member of staff who I was due to cross-examine started smoking his cigarette. I watched him, wondering whether he was calming his nerves. I noticed that his lighter was a button lighter, rather than a dial lighter.

In cross-examination, I asked whether the member of staff was completely sure that he had seen my client sparking the lighter, knowing that the answer would be a very proud ‘Yes’, infront of the jury. I then asked him to focus very precisely on what he saw. I asked whether he saw sparks flying. He answered yes. I asked how sure he was on a scale of 1-10, and he said 10. I asked him whether he could see in his mind’s eye the pressing of the button on the lighter. He said yes. I asked him how sure he was, and he said he was extremely sure, as sure as could be and that he was sure he saw the button go down before the sparks flew. I asked him to demonstrate the movement of the thumb that he showed the depression of the button.

I then produced the lighter seized from the scene, which was in fact a dial lighter. He therefore could not possibly have seen what he said he was so very sure about. My client was acquitted.

This was a fascinating example of the psychological processes that we all go through when we consolidate our memories.

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