Burgess grew up in Castleford, West Yorkshire. Her mother was a secondary headteacher and her father was absent. She attended boarding school in Skipton and then St Catharine's College, Cambridge, where she studied law.
Burgess was married to Youdon Lhamo, and they had three children (two biological and one adopted) in their twenty years of marriage. In 2005, they separated. Burgess, who was transgender, then began to transition from male to female, adopting the name Sonia Burgess, but continued to practise law as David Burgess.
In October 2010, Burgess was killed after being pushed under a train. The perpetrator, Nina (Senthooran) Kanagasingham, a trans woman whom Burgess had befriended, was found guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility due to schizophrenia, and was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment with a minimum of seven years to serve. Kanagasingham died in prison on 8 April 2013 from suffocation.
Burgess articled in Skipton, and then moved to London to pursue a legal career, co-founding Winstanley-Burgess, which closed in August 2003 as "one of the country's most respected asylum and immigration law practices".
Burgess obtained a number of landmark decisions from British courts and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on behalf of immigrant clients. Notably, as a result of an ECHR decision in favour of 52 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers represented by Burgess, British law was changed to allow asylum seekers to appeal against refusal of asylum before having to leave the country.
- Bawdon, Fiona (2 November 2010). "David Burgess obituary: Influential lawyer and tenacious defender of asylum seekers' rights". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-01-09.
- Day, Elizabeth (9 January 2011). "The extraordinary life and death of David Burgess". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-01-09.
At Luqmani Thompson, the law firm where Burgess still worked as David, the existence of his [sic] alter ego was something of an open secret.
- "Man jailed for killing Sonia Burgess at King's Cross station". 2011-12-22. Retrieved 2019-03-29.
- Topping, Alexandra (1 November 2010). "Woman accused of tube murder was undergoing sex change". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-01-09.
- Hough, Andrew (26 October 2010). "Murder inquiry 'after woman pushed under Tube train at Kings Cross station during joke'". The Daily Telegraph. London.
- "Lawyer who died under train lived as a woman". Daily Telegraph. 2011-12-12. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
a preoperative transsexual whom he [sic] had befriended
- Walker, Peter (22 December 2011). "Man who pushed solicitor under tube train jailed for life". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
- Randhawa, Kiran (17 February 2015). "Transsexual killer of top lawyer found dead in prison cell". Evening Standard. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
- Rozenberg, Joshua (29 May 2003). "The asylum lawyer who is seeking a refuge". The Telegraph. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
- Vilvarajah and others v. The United Kingdom, application no. 13163/87.