Meet the lawyer who helped former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq find closure

Asma Iqbal became accustomed to using her voice for others at a young age and that culminated in her playing a key role in helping cricketer Azeem Rafiq, writes Ismail Mulla.

The seeds for Asma Iqbal’s career in the legal profession were planted at a very young age, a career that would subsequently see her play a key role in bringing to light racism allegations at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

Both her parents were originally from Pakistan and while her father worked in a factory, Ms Iqbal’s mother brought up seven children at their home in Bradford.

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Her mother didn’t speak any English so she became her voice.It made Ms Iqbal realise the importance of being able to get your views across.

Asma Iqbal is a partner at law firm Chadwick Lawrence

Ms Iqbal said: “There’s power in words. There’s power in the way that you speak. There’s power in the way that you get your point across. I realised that from a very early age.

“We had an issue after losing one of my little sister’s passports with the consulate. I was only ten but I wrote this letter and the commissioner called me in to really apologise for this.

“He wasn’t expecting me to be a child. I’d written it on behalf of my dad.”

While she didn’t see her father much while growing up, he always had aspirations for his children.

“I wanted to challenge myself a bit more by practising in a niche area of law," Asma Iqbal says.

It was her father’s intervention that would set Ms Iqbal up on the path to a career in law and see her ultimately become a partner at Chadwick Lawrence.

She said: “We’re from an orthodox Pathan family so I would be the first generation female from anyone that we knew that was going to university.

“It was a big deal and dad stood up for me at that point and said that if she meets the grades and does as well as she has been doing then there’s no reason why she shouldn’t continue.”

Ms Iqbal completed her law degree at the University of Huddersfield in 1997 and began her career at Ralph C Yablon Solicitors in Bradford. She ended up in insolvency work after being headhunted by Leeds-based Brooke North.

Asma Iqbal represented Azeem Rafiq in his racism case against Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

“I’d been qualified for a year and I was looking for a different opportunity,” she says. “I wanted to challenge myself a bit more by practising in a niche area of law.”

A challenge it certainly was. What Ms Iqbal encountered was a male dominated area of law with networks often formed on the golf course or on a Friday at All Bar One.

“It was a standing joke that if you wanted to serve any papers or speak to your opponent, just go to All Bar One because they would all be there on a Friday,” she says.

Being a Muslim, Ms Iqbal didn’t visit pubs. Despite this, she found a mentor in the form of senior partner at Brooke North and district judge Steven Frieze, who happened to be an Orthodox Jew.

Ms Iqbal said: “He didn’t drink, didn’t engage in the Friday night culture of meeting at pubs etc. We got on very well because that’s everything that I didn’t want to do.

“I didn’t want to compromise on my beliefs and I knew that insolvency was pretty much all about that especially at the time when I was entering that field.”

She ended up learning a lot from him with Ms Iqbal describing him as “the most intelligent man that I’ve ever met”.

While insolvency is changing when it comes to diversity with more women “making a mark for themselves”, there is still a lot of work to be done, says Ms Iqbal.

In September 2020, the insolvency lawyer happened to be watching television when former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq gave an emotional interview about the racism he had suffered during his time at the club.

She saw that he was “hurting” and his testimony also set off her legal antenna. Ms Iqbal reached out to the former cricketer through a mutual friend and met him at the roadside cafe that he was now running in Rotherham

“We were in this car park and he was literally running between making tea and pancakes and talking to me,” she says. “That’s when I heard the bulk of what he had to say in terms of his story.”

Ms Iqbal knew of Roger Hutton, the then chairman of Yorkshire CCC, who was also an insolvency lawyer, and reached out to him on behalf of Mr Rafiq. A day later, an inquiry was launched by the club into the allegations of racism.

It pitted Ms Iqbal and her client against an international law firm. Did taking on such a high profile race discrimination case as an insolvency lawyer concern Ms Iqbal? “Never,” she says. “Not once.”

Ms Iqbal added: “You’ve got five lawyers from an international law firm and there’s me and Azeem here and I feel like we’re doing a better job. Azeem was liked, I think that was a real advantage for me.”

The toughest moment of the case for Ms Iqbal came when allegations emerged of players desecrating prayer mats of Muslim teammates. Ms Iqbal said: “I left the room and there’s a canal just here that goes up the back of my office. I had to go for a walk.

“That hurt. I thought ‘how do I detach myself because this is real’. This was total disrespect for everything that I stand for.

“I was walking down that canal and a number of people could see that I was a bit upset, they stopped me and said ‘good morning, are you alright’. They were all white. That made me realise that there are good people. The people he’s come across in these incidents that we have been told about can’t colour our view that this is society as a whole.”

She thumps the table in front of her and adds: “We have to believe there are good people. That change will happen and people will accept us.”

As she finally helped secure some form of closure for Mr Rafiq, a host of self-appointed spokesmen emerged to provide soundbites to TV cameras. Ms Iqbal just laughs it off.

She said: “It didn’t bother me. I know what I have done. I didn’t do it for my personal profile. That wasn’t my reason for taking the case on. I’m just so happy that he’s got some closure now.”

However, this is not the end of her quest for diversity and inclusion. She is looking to help organisations carry out audits.

Ms Iqbal’s message to young Muslim women looking to make a mark in their career is to not worry about the hurdles they may face.

“Aspire to become the best version of yourself in your chosen career, whatever that is, because it can be done,” she says. “Those opportunities that don’t come your way, weren’t meant for you. There will be others, don’t lose hope.”

Curriculum vitae

Title: Partner – Insolvency and Dispute Resolution

Lives: Bradford

Holiday: Dubai is my favourite destination

Last Book read: The Khan by Saima Mir

Favourite Film: Fast and Furious ( I have a love of cars); The Children Act

Favourite songs: Currently on my playlist is Tu Jhoom by Abida Parveen and Naseebo Lal and the late Lata Mangeshkar’s classics. Ed Sheeran – Supermarket Flowers – is my favourite since my mum passed away in 2018.

Car driven: Porsche Cayenne

Most proud of: Overcoming barriers and breaking those glass ceilings along the way.

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James Mitchinson