Sophie Garner

Call 1990

Introduction

With over 30 years qualified experience, Sophie is a widely recognised, specialist, employment barrister and independent investigator. Sophie is ranked in the highest tier by Legal 500, who comment in their latest edition that she is “tactically strong and very knowledgeable, with a high level of understanding that instils confidence in clients”. Clients refer to Sophie in similar terms, and she has been described in recent years as: “tenacious”, “client friendly” and “a very capable and effective advocate”.

Sophie is appointed to the Treasury Counsel ‘A’ Panel, which deals with the most complex government cases across all kinds of courts and tribunals. In this capacity, ‘A’ Panel members are often expected to appear against QCs, demonstrating the senior, complex and high-profile level of case Sophie is typically instructed in. Indeed, it is in those factually dense and technical complex cases that Sophie really shines, as she is able to deploy her exceptional organizational and presentational skills, as well as her comprehensive knowledge of her specialist area of law. Sophie’s reputation is such that she remains in high demand across multiple sectors and industries. This includes working on strategic, complex and senior cases for various local authorities, a wide range of private clients – from individuals to PLCs, across the education sector and for charities. A natural complement to her thriving practice, Sophie chairs the Bar Council’s Retention Panel, which deals with retention of women at the Bar, sits on the Bar Council’s Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility Committee, and also had a key role in devising and drafting the Bar Council’s training for barristers on dealing with harassment. Sophie also undertakes disciplinary and grievance investigations, as well as governance disputes, within charities, schools and the wider commercial sector.

An award-winning barrister, Sophie has extensive experience of voluntary work as a director and charity trustee, is the co-founder, and now patron, of the charity, Amicus and Vice-Chair of the Midland Circuit Women’s Forum, though still finds time for her pursuits by hill walking and skiing.

Employment

Sophie represents clients in the full range of employment related litigation, and appears before employment tribunals, as well as the county court (discrimination), High Court (restraint of trade, confidential information and JR), and before regulatory bodies such as the GMC and TRA (professional misconduct). As you may expect from one of the most highly ranked barristers on the circuit, Sophie has an active appellate practice and is an increasingly regular visitor to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Given her experience and expertise, Sophie is a true all-rounder in employment law and undertakes all types of claim, including discrimination, all forms of dismissal, whistleblowing, TUPE, labour disputes and equal pay. Sophie is most frequently instructed in complex, multi-day cases and also has a rare specialism in non-employment discrimination claims, such as claims of discrimination in the provision of goods and services, as well as clubs and association. These have included a claims of sex discrimination against a sporting club and, separately, advice in relation to sex discrimination by a religious group

Sophie also deals with complex issues at the interface of employment, contract and commercial laws in the High Court. Recently she has handled cases involving restraint of trade and judicial review. In these cases, Sophie’s experience as a professionally qualified company secretary helps to disentangle corporate governance disputes that are often the hallmark of conflicts between directors/trustees and senior executives. Sophie is also accredited under the public access scheme and has taken on a range of public access matters for Claimant and Respondents alike. As an appointed Treasury Counsel, Sophie is regularly instructed by both central and local government. Her wider practice beyond this includes regular instructions from police authorities, NHS trusts, educational institutions and private sector employers.

Sophie has a balanced Claimant and Respondent practice, and is equally comfortable representing either party. Her “extremely thorough” and “responsive” approach means that she can take a robust and practical approach to the litigation to achieve the best outcome for clients.

A sample of Sophie’s extensive experience in reported cases, over the past decade alone, includes:

  • Mr Justin Sanjay Chatterjee v Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust UKEAT/0047/19/BA, [2019] 9 WLUK 556 – Sophie represented the appellant: dealing with causation in a protected disclosure claim;
  • Herry v Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council [2017] ICR 610 – Sophie represented the Respondent in this appeal brought by an ET claimant against a £110,000 order for costs against him, the case included guidance given on whether his mental health condition amounted to a disability;
  • Greco v Ms D Greco v General Physics UK Ltd [2016] UKEAT/0114/16/DM – Sophie successfully defended this appeal against the ET’s decision to dismiss a claim of sex discrimination. Grounds of appeal related to adequacy of reasons and bias and the enforceability of s.111A (pre-termination discussions);
  • Pnaiser v NHS England and Coventry City Council [2016] IRLR 170 – This disability discrimination claim focused on s.15 ‘discrimination because of something arising from disability’. The case involved guidance given on the burden of proof at each stage of the s.15 analysis;
  • Governing Body of St Michael’s Church of England Junior and Infant School v Smith [2014] UKEAT/0165/14/KN – Sophie successfully represented the appellant in this appeal on the grounds of apparent bias against the ET’s finding that the Claimant had been unfairly dismissed;
  • Simpson v Intralinks [2012] I.L.Pr. 34; [2012] Eq. L.R. 732 (EAT) This claim involved an employee who brought a claim in UK Tribunal under a German contract of employment. The EAT considered the allocation of jurisdiction under conflict of laws in cases with overseas employees, where sex discrimination and equal pay claims made; and
  • Owens v Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council [2011] I.C.R. 453 (CA) – determination by the Court of Appeal of whether a counsellor working in education qualified as a teacher under the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

A sample of Sophie’s extensive experience in further typical cases in which she is represented includes:

  • Representing a consultant against an NHS Trust on a claim of whistleblowing at a 10-day hearing;
  • Advising and representing a local authority in a long running (five year) series of claims by a litigant in person involving a number of substantive hearings (the longest being 34 days) involving claims of race and disability discrimination;
  • Advising a charity in relation to discrimination by a religious place of worship or whether the provisions of Schedule 23 to the Equality Act 2010 applied;
  • Advising and representing a woman expelled from a sporting club following her well-founded accusations that the club’s constitution was in breach of the Equality Act;
  • Representing a head teacher, based at a Muslim school, on a 10-day hearing before the TRA and a subsequent five-day ET hearing;
  • Representing parents who alleged discrimination by a school against their disabled child;
  • Representing two trustees of a charity incorporated by Royal Charter in injunctive proceedings in the High Court, when an attempt was made to remove them from their positions;
  • Successfully representing an IT sales company through interlocutory relief applications and resolution of dispute following breach by two employees of pre and post termination restrictions;
  • Successfully represented a corporate accountant in a claim of sex (pregnancy) discrimination and detriment in relation to a request to work flexibly, this included a fully contested remedy hearing;
  • Representing an international sales representative of a large organisation supplying the automotive trade as to the applicability of his restrictive covenants in the High Court; and
  • Advising on a complex TUPE matter involving allegations of fragmentation of assets amongst numerous subsidiaries in order to defeat the application of the regulations. Despite numerous setbacks and delaying tactics on the part of the putative transferee, Sophie helped to achieve a successful settlement.

A leading practitioner in the employment law arena, Sophie also regularly provides lectures, seminars and written articles on employment law, procedure, discrimination and equality, inclusion & diversity.

Independent Dispute Resolution Support

In addition to being the perfect complement to her employment practice, Sophie uses skills from her legal practice, and combines this with her corporate governance experience, to provide services as an ‘independent person’ for major organisations. Few practitioners understand as many of the particular corporate governance complexities and technicalities of corporate and organizational operation as well as Sophie. An associate of the Chartered Governance Institute, professionally qualified company secretary, and hosting decades of experience as a voluntary charity trustee and director, Sophie is considered one of the ‘go to’ practitioners for employment related and corporate governance issues. As an example of her continued commitment, Sophie is currently Trustee of MWNUK, Trustee of a multi-academy trust, and is Chair/Trustee of a small charity promoting community cohesion at a local level.

Sophie’s work in this area falls into two main functions:

  • Investigations: including conducting independent investigations and/or decision making in disciplinary and grievance investigations; and sensitive issue investigations including harassment and discrimination. Her investigation work also encompasses disputes that affect organizational governance. Examples this work include:

 

  • A grievance involving serious allegations of sexual harassment, and a collective grievance brought against a head teacher by 39 staff.
  • A full governance review for a national gardening charity involving a dispute between a trustee/director and the CEO.
  • Commercial and Workplace Mediation: including workplace mediation; mediation of ongoing or current claims; boardroom disputes; grievances and harassment between employees; sensitive discrimination allegations; and the breakdown of directors’ or senior executive working relationships. Examples of her work include:
  • A workplace mediation involving the CEO of substantial West Midlands based charity; and
  • A mediation between a senior manager and a former employer on the settlement of a high court employment dispute.

Sophie qualified as a mediator in 2000 with CEDR and then with ADR Group in 2009. Latterly, Sophie qualified with Globis, a specialist workplace mediation organization, in 2011. She also has a wider background, from her first decade in practice, of commercial, property and administrative law. This means she is at ease dealing with even the most protracted and complicated of commercial disputes. As with her employment practice, Sophie lectures regularly in-house and externally on investigations and mediation and issues.

Working with Sophie

Professional clients rely, and regularly comment, upon Sophie’s thorough and meticulous case preparation. Sophie’s extensive experience means that understands the relevant law and procedure intimately and can wield it to great effect for her clients. Whether it is in cross-examination, written or oral advocacy, guidance on case strategy or in a business support role, clients will receive a tailored service each and every time.

Given that the majority of her work includes complex and sensitive matters, clients regularly report their appreciation for Sophie’s down to earth and practical approach. Sophie credits her success to a simple, effective philosophy: she aims to bring a measure of balance and proportionality to any process she is involved with to ensure the best possible outcome for the parties involved.

Reported Cases

Mr Justin Sanjay Chatterjee v Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust UKEAT/0047/19/BA, [2019] 9 WLUK 556 – represented the appellant in this appeal dealing with causation in a protected disclosure claim.

Herry v Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council [2017] ICR 610 – represented the Respondent in this appeal brought by an ET claimant against a £110,000 order for costs against him, and guidance given on the issue of whether his mental health condition amounted to a disability.

Greco v Ms D Greco v General Physics UK Ltd (2016) UKEAT/0114/16/DM – Successfully defended this appeal against the ET’s decision to dismiss a claim of sex discrimination. Grounds of appeal related to adequacy of reasons and bias and the enforceability of s.111A (pre-termination discussions) – see article here.

Pnaiser v NHS England and Coventry City Council [2016] IRLR 170 – Disability discrimination – s.15 ‘discrimination because of something arising from disability’. Guidance given on the burden of proof at each stage of the s.15 analysis.

Governing Body of St Michael’s Church of England Junior and Infant School v Smith (2014) UKEAT/0165/14/KN – appeal on the grounds of apparent bias against the ET’s finding that the Claimant had been unfairly dismissed. Appeal successful.

Simpson v Intralinks [2012] I.L.Pr. 34; [2012] Eq. L.R. 732 (EAT) – Employee brought claim in UK Tribunal under German contract of employment. EAT considered the allocation of jurisdiction under conflict of laws in cases with overseas employees, where sex discrimination and equal pay claims made.

Owens v Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council [2011] I.C.R. 453 (CA) – determination by the Court of Appeal of whether a counsellor working in education qualified as a teacher under the Teachers Pension Scheme.

Education

LLB Hons (Law)
Inns of Court School of Law, Grays Inn
ACG – The Chartered Governance Practitioner Course
Accredited Commercial Mediator, CEDR
Accredited Commercial Mediator, ADR Group
Accredited Workplace Mediator, Globis

Appointments and Memberships

Awards and Appointments

Winner – Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year 2019 – Birmingham Law Society

Nominated – One of the Attorney General’s ‘Pro-bono Heroes’

Member of Attorney General’s ‘A’ Panel of Counsel – 2020

 

Voluntary Appointments and Roles

Co-founder and Patron – Amicus (The legal human rights charity).

Trustee – MWNUK, and Create Partnership Trust (MAT)

Chair – Bar Council Retention Panel

Committee Member – Bar Council EDRSM Committee

Vice-Chair – Midland Circuit Women’s Forum

 

Memberships

Discrimination Law Association

Employment Lawyers Association

Employment Law Bar Association

Testimonials

“I have worked with Sophie on many occasions over the last 2-3 years. We have dealt with many complex and sensitive matters and she has demonstrated both great commercial insight and a very keen and able legal brain. I would highly recommend Sophie as a first-class Barrister highly skilled in the field of employment and discrimination law.” Client Testimonial: Direct Access Client
“What an absolute pleasure it's been to have Sophie represent me. She has understood the complexities of my case with great astuteness, which meant that she has been an accurate representative and advocate for me. The process of taking this to tribunal has been necessary for me from a career perspective, but having her alongside me has also helped me personally and emotionally in regaining some confidence and finding a way to move on. I needed a lot of things to make the decision to take this all the way through to tribunal, but a barrister who understood me and was willing to help me was top of the list. Sophie has met and exceeded all I hoped for and needed.” Client Testimonial: Direct Access Client
“This was a clearly difficult case. You handled the case with great skill. The case cannot have been easy when there were such strong views and when you had three clients to deal with. Also, your careful attention to detail in respect of the agreement despite the length of the mediation and the lateness of the hour was exceptionally impressive”. Senior Mediator commenting upon Sophie’s performance as a mediator advocate
“Tactically strong and very knowledgeable, with a high level of understanding that instils confidence in clients.” Legal 500 2021
"Responsive and extremely thorough." Legal 500 2020
"Very knowledgeable and accessible." Legal 500
"Quick to win a client’s confidence." Legal 500
"A specialist in discrimination law." Legal 500
"A very capable and effective advocate." Legal 500
"Client friendly" with the ability to "get to grips with the detail of a difficult issue." Legal 500
"Technically strong and client friendly." Legal 500