Even before becoming a lawyer the barrister Philip Engelman, who has died aged 68, displayed the chutzpah and fearlessness which characterised much of his work at the Bar, and which went hand in hand with a maverick streak that didn’t always endear him to authority.

As a student he took a holiday job hop-picking in Kent – an unusual decision for a North London Jewish lad who had never been on a farm in his life. When the farmer asked for volunteer tractor drivers young Philip put his hand up, despite the fact that he had never driven a tractor, never driven a car and didn’t have a licence. The outcome was predictable: within an hour the tractor was in the ditch. He found the episode hugely amusing.

His self-confidence stood him in good stead at the Bar. He went on to enjoy a distinguished career as a specialist in employment, commercial and public law. But, despite applying several times, he never made silk.

Among his notable cases was the long-running litigation between Brennan and others and Sunderland City Council, which began when a group of female employees took the council to an employment tribunal complaining that their male colleagues were paid bonuses while they were not. He represented the women all the way up to the Court of Appeal. His opponent in much of that case, John Bowers KC, principal of Brasenose College, Oxford, calls him ‘one of the most sought-after employment law barristers, and it is surprising that he never took silk’.

One of his more controversial cases was Risby v London Borough of Waltham Forest in which he successfully argued that a disabled employee had been wrongly dismissed after losing his temper over a lack of wheelchair access at a meeting and loudly complaining, in racist and offensive terms, that the council wouldn’t get away with it if they had prevented Black people from attending (the claimant's stance was that he was trying to make a point). He persuaded the appeal tribunal that there was an indirect connection between Mr Risby’s disability and the behaviour and language which led to his dismissal, establishing that only a loose causal link is required to show that discrimination arises from a disability.

In 2017 he represented (unsuccessfully) the Moors murderer Ian Brady when Brady sought permission to challenge a ruling that his solicitor of 25 years’ standing, Robin Makin, was not allowed to represent him before the mental health review tribunal.

His achievements were especially notable because for the last 25 years of his life he was afflicted by a wasting disease which gradually deprived him of mobility and – a terrible thing for an advocate – eventually rendered his voice almost inaudible.

Philip Engelman was born in 1955, the eldest of three children: his younger brother Mark also became a successful barrister. At school he won a place at Oxford, but his mother refused to let him take it up. Instead he read law at University College London. He was Student Union President and showed an early interest in unpopular causes when he planned, organised and chaired a conference on prisoners’ rights.

He was called to the Bar in 1979 and originally took a tenancy in chambers in Colchester, but in 1986 he moved to Cloisters in London. He was soon in the Court of Appeal in R v Greenwich London Borough Council, ex parte Governors of the John Ball Primary School, successfully arguing for judicial review of the council’s decision not to allow parents from outside the borough to send their children to their nearest local school.

In 1999 he led a breakaway group and with the former senior clerk from Cloisters established a new set, known as Cardinal Chambers, amid what were described by one journalist at the time as ‘bitter recriminations’. The experiment was not a success. Two years later he quit as head of Cardinal to rejoin Cloisters, who (rather generously) were prepared to take him back.

By that stage he was already ill. At the age of 40 he was diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, a gradual but incurable condition. He kept the diagnosis secret, for fear that it might affect solicitors’ willingness to offer him work. When he began walking with a stick he would sometimes claim to be suffering from gout.

‘He was very stubborn and very determined,’ says his friend Daphne Romney KC. When she asked him why he carried on working, he replied in effect, ‘What else would I do?’

Colleagues remember fondly a man who was, in the words of one, ‘endlessly fun and amusing’ as well as clever and deeply committed. His sense of fun extended into the courtroom. During one judicial review brought pro bono on behalf of Compassion in World Farming, he brought a toy sheep into court every day as a mascot and placed it in front of him.

Adam Solomon KC calls him ‘funny and brilliant, and absolutely fearless in court’. Paul Darling KC recalls ‘a doughty opponent’. Paul Epstein KC credits his own decision to become a barrister to the week he spent with Philip after leaving university in 1985. ‘He was fearless in his work,’ he says. ‘His natural anti-authoritarianism gave him courage.’

As a Recorder he became a campaigner for improving disabled access. He discovered that while many Crown Courts are now wheelchair accessible for the public, there were few similar facilities for judges, and he set out to change that.

His publications included Blackstone’s Guide to the Care Standards Act 2000, Sweet and Maxwell’s Commercial Judicial Review and a chapter on the Human Rights Act in Supperstone, Goudie and Walker on Judicial Review.

He was twice married, to Dianne Rocks, a solicitor, and to Joanne Briggs, whom he met in chambers. Both marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his partner for the past 20 years, the barrister Carolyn Pearson, and by Rachel Rocks-Engelman, his daughter from his first marriage.