Sarah Bourke

People spend a large proportion of their time at work. Having specialised in employment and equality law since 1998, I know just how stressful and worrying employment problems can be for workers and small businesses.

I act for individuals, charities and small businesses in employment cases - particularly in relation to unfair dismissal, redundancy, equal pay and discrimination on grounds of sex, disability, race, age, sexual orientation, gender reassignment and religion or belief. 

I also represent individuals in cases involving discrimination in education, public services (e.g. social housing, HM Prisons) and the provision of goods and services. 

I am an accredited mediator.

My approach

I take a pragmatic and practical approach to disputes. I know that the cost of legal representation can be daunting for many people and small businesses. I understand that people need realistic advice on the strength of their case and whether going to court will achieve their desired outcome. Most of the people that I work with have not had any dealings with the legal system before, so I am a big believer in giving clear advice in plain English!

Early advice can often help reduce legal fees by focussing on strong claims and looking at ways to resolve problems without involving the courts. If you are able to do some of the preparation work yourself, legal fees can be significantly reduced when compared with the cost of using a solicitor.

My work

Reported cases: 

I have successfully acted for Claimants in three landmark equal pay cases:

Barker v Birmingham City Council - this was an equal pay action which is believed to be the largest ever claim brought against a public authority in Europe. 

Bury MBC v Hamilton [2011] IRLR 358 (EAT) - this claim focussed on the material factor defence and the issue of pay protection. 

McAvoy v South Tyneside MBC [2009] IRLR 796 (EAT) - this case relates to the issue of whether men can bring contingent equal pay claims by comparing themselves with women that have won equal pay claims.

Other work

I also acted for the complainant in high-profile professional misconduct proceedings against a Christian psychotherapist who practiced gay conversion therapy. The practitioner subsequently lost her BACP accreditation as a result of the complaint. 

Recent cases
  • I successfully  represented the trustees of a small charity facing a constructive dismissal claim from a former employee which would have lead to the organisation closing. 
  • I recently assisted a serving police officer with procedural problems in the presentation of his discrimination claim. 
  • I successfully acted for a small firm facing an employment claim from a self-employed consultant. ​
  • I obtained a Restricted Reporting Order for a client accused of serious sexual misconduct in a case which was likely to attract significant media attention.

About me

I have been a barrister for nearly 20 years. I started my legal career at a busy law centre in North London where I saw the problems caused by poor employment practices and discrimination on a daily basis. I joined Michael Mansfield's chambers in 2006 and continued to specialise in employment and equality work. I also developed a practice in prisoners' rights and inquest law. 

I am an accredited mediator. I am also a part-time judge in the Social Security Appeals Tribunals.

What my clients say

"Sarah was, for me, exceptional in several ways: a supreme capacity for understanding every tiny nuance of a complex case incredibly quickly, an unerringly calm, upbeat, can-do approach - unfazed by whatever was thrown at her - and a total focus on how to win the case. Strategic, sensible, straight down the line. I trusted her completely and she proved my instincts right. We won." - Client, London

Professional & academic

LLB with advanced studies, University College London 1994

I am a member of the following professional organisations: 

  • Industrial Law Society
  • Employment Law Bar Association
  • Discrimination Law Association
  • Institute of Equality and Diversity Professionals
  • Association of Prison Lawyers
  • Inquest Lawyers Group

I am an occasional lecturer on European gender equality law at the Academy of European Law in Trier, Germany. I also lectured on trans prisoners rights at the inaugural meeting of the Transgender Europe Legal Network in May 2014. I undertake training on equality and diversity matters for a range of audiences, including activists. I particularly enjoy training non-lawyers. 

I am an accredited mediator.

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  • Essex
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