Sonia specialized in rescuing deprived and alienated refugees and asylum seekers, along with persecuted lesbian, gay and trans people. Her work frequently saved the former from persecution, degradation, even certain death and advanced considerably the battle for civil rights for the latter, over that period.
When I first went to Sonia’s office, naive as I was, and coming from 'up North', I had expected a London lawyer to work in a fancy building, with polished furniture, and rich carpets. Instead I entered a dark, dingy, decaying building on the East London Road, where dirty magnolia woodchip papered stud wall partitions, with holes where they had been torn and kicked in frustration by the firm’s clients, and which looked as if they would collapse at any moment. Inside that den of iniquity, their seemed to be hundreds of grey people hanging out, hoping for a bob or two, or a cup of tea whilst they waited for the British Government to decide on their lives. Rarely did money change hands. Sonia, supported by her legal partner Robert Winstanley (now His Honour Judge Winstanley of the South Eastern Circuit), and backed by an army of pro-bono law students, mostly gave away her services. Her wife, a beautiful Nepalese woman, and a community nurse, was the breadwinner for the family, Sonia’s legal income was tiny in comparison.
On first sighting, Sonia (as David) was a tall, willowy individual with a toss of deep blonde loose curls on a face with the highest cheek bones any woman would die for. ‘David’ looked like someone of neither sex, and for all the world, as you might imagine an angel if you were ever to meet with one. I had always thought Sonia was Jewish, but that as her wife was Nepalese, I had presumed Judaism was not pushed within the family. From other things I have read since Sonia's death I am not so certain now, but if she did aspire to any religion it must have been one full of love, and a willingness to make sacrifice through goodness.
Sonia was a person with a contemporary reflection on life, with a vision of a world in which humanity acted humanely towards each other. As a lawyer, her mission, “a job that she had just been given”, she said, was to rescue the earth’s dispossessed, who it seemed, took up residence at the firm's office.
I can only imagine that Nina had reached that terrible point of frustration and despair with the British Immigration Injustice system, when despair is the only possible response, and she lashed out at the person closest. It is one of the dangers of the job; Human Rights lawyers are not meant to have an easy time of it.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
- Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you ...
Key Case Law: Sonia ('David') Burgess
Chahal v United Kingdom, European Court of Human Rights
Razgar, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 840 (19 June 2003) Court of Appeal
A v Chief Constable of the West Yorkshire Police & Anor  EWCA Civ 1584 (05 November 2002) Court of Appeal
R (Tamil Information Centre) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 2155 (Admin) (18 October 2002) Administrative Court
X,Y and Z v United Kingdom (1996) European Court of Human Rights. Case no: 75/1995/581/667
In re M (A.P.) (Cross-appellant and Original Respondent) 1993 House of Lords
The Queen v Immigration Appeal Tribunal, ex parte Gustaff Desiderius Antonissen. (Free movement of persons)  EUECJ C-292/89 (26 February 1991) Court of Justice of the European Communities
R v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, Ex parte Sivakumaran and Conjoined Appeals (UN High Commissioner for Refugees Intervening)  AC 958, 16 December 1987 House of Lords
Copyright: Stephen Whittle 01/11/10 amended 28/12/12
ps. Jemima comments "Why is the value or status of a trans woman measured in her desirability?". I feel an answers needed here. My reference to David's and Sonia's desirability had nothing to do with her trans status, her glamour, beauty, sexuality or anything similar. Sonia was 'desirable' as a person who truly cared, who always had a smile no matter how much pain she was in, who made you feel like you were the most important person in the room - when you were anything but, and who lived a life which was given wholeheartedly to others. I wanted to be as good a person as Sonia was, I desired to be like her, to feel the connection of her brain rather than her body. I wished I could have been her and live my life in the self sacrificing way she lived hers. People assume that the only form of desire is sexual, desire is so much more about aspiration.