An investigation by the Oxford University LGBTQ+ Society has found that Dinah Rose, QC, President of Magdalen College, received at least £134,000 for advocating against same-sex marriage on behalf of the government of the Cayman Islands.
The case was brought to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Counsel in February 2021 by Chantelle Day and Vicky Bush, a lesbian couple who wished to marry in the Cayman Islands. The couple had previously been granted the right to marriage by a Court in the Cayman Islands, but this decision was overturned by the Caymanian Government in the Court of Appeal, with Ms Rose acting on behalf of the government.
A Freedom of Information request filed in July by Colours Cayman and the OULGBTQ+ Society revealed that Ms Rose was paid CI$152,197.28 (£134,340.73) to represent the Caymanian government. Jeffrey Jowell QC and Tim Parker, who also acted on behalf of the government in these cases, received a further £322,000. OULGBTQ+ described these payments as “extortionate”, contrasting them with the £2000 that Day and Bush had to fight their case.
Ms Rose told Cherwell the OULGBTQ+ Society’s presentation of the fee she received was “inaccurate and misleading”, since the fee relates to “the entirety of [her] work on the case over a two year period, including all the proceedings in the Court of Appeal”. She added that the “substantial majority” of the fee was paid before she was appointed President of Magdalen College.
Ms Rose was criticised by students and societies at Oxford for representing the Caymanian government in their attempt to oppose the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Much of the criticism centred around a perceived conflict of interest between her role as President of a College which includes LGBTQ+ students, and her professional obligations as a barrister.
In response to criticism and pressure to drop the case, Ms Rose said: “As a barrister, I am subject to professional obligations enforced by the Bar Standards Board. These include a duty to accept briefs without regard to the acceptability of the views or positions of my clients, and to represent clients without regard to external pressure. I also have a duty not to withdraw from cases that I have already accepted, and always to put the best interests of my clients first.”
Following the controversy surrounding Ms Rose’s involvement in the case, Magdalen’s JCR passed a vote affirming it’s support for her as College President. However, an anonymous LGBTQ+ student at Magdalen claimed that “the motion… was largely directed by straight white men” and described the experience as “dehumanising”.
Cherwell’s initial reporting on the controversy can be found here.
In response to these events, OULGBTQ+ Society compiled a report examining the policies colleges have in place to prevent a College Head’s work outside the College conflicting with their pastoral responsibilities to students.
OULGBTQ+ Society contacted the Heads of the 44 other Oxford colleges and PPHs and received 23 replies. The report notes that “all College Heads who responded disclosed that they require permission from the Governing Body prior to accepting external work to ensure there is no incompatibility between positions.” However, most colleges did not take student welfare into account in their definition of ‘incompatibility’. According to the report, the Society received “only one response that outlines sufficient due diligence in the appointment and tenure of a College Head” with regard to student welfare.
The report concludes that “existing policies do not go far enough to protect members of the student body, especially those most vulnerable.” Only one college, suggests the report, provided an exemplary response that demonstrated “best practice”. While OULGBTQ+ Society notes that it is unreasonable to expect Heads to give up their professional lives, it recommends the adoption of formal measures at all colleges to ensure that student welfare is considered during the application process.
OULGBTQ+ Society’s report recommends that both existing and new professional obligations for College Heads are examined with regard to their impact on student welfare, particularly with regard to minority student groups. The report argues that the Conference of Colleges should implement this appropriately, and that college Conflict of Interest policies should be freely available to the public for the sake of transparency.
In a statement, the OULGBTQ+ Society said: “[They are] shocked and disappointed to discover the significant amount that the President of Magdalen received to represent a foreign government furthering a homophobic cause. Ms. Rose is already receiving a substantial salary for her primary role as President and so we implore her to donate her fee to LGBTQ+ advocacy organisations and charities in the Cayman Islands who are working tirelessly to support vulnerable LGBTQ+ people in the area.
The Society finds Magdalen College’s aim of eliminating discrimination to be incompatible with prosecuting a case on behalf of a foreign government that is denying the equal right to marriage on the basis of sexual orientation. Our concern does not stem from Ms. Rose’s duties or professional entitlements as a barrister, but instead from the conflict these duties created with her primary and overriding responsibility to protect the LGBTQ+ members of Magdalen. It is inconceivable, to us, that as an acting College Head with pastoral duties, Ms. Rose may simultaneously fulfil an external role actively harming the same community she has a duty to protect.”
Speaking to Cherwell, Dinah Rose QC said: “As you know, I have already commented in detail on this case. All I would add is that the argument that there is a conflict of interest between my discharge of my professional obligations as a barrister and my role as President is wrong. It can only be founded on the assumption that a barrister may be taken to share the views of their client. I have explained before why this assumption is false, and dangerous to the fair and effective administration of justice. In any event, the issue in this case is not whether same sex marriage should be available in the Cayman Islands, but whether that is a matter which should properly be decided by the courts or by the Cayman Parliament. Arguing this question of constitutional interpretation and democratic accountability does not amount to “furthering a homophobic cause”.
“I remain fully committed to safeguarding the welfare of all members of the Magdalen community, including our LGBTQ+ community, and fully committed to supporting LGBTQ+ rights, including the right to equal marriage.
“My availability to deal with queries over the next week is very limited, because I am currently preparing to argue an appeal commencing on Monday before the Hong Kong Court of Appeal in which I represent appellants who have been refused permission to change their birth-assigned gender on their identity cards. For the avoidance of doubt, my fees in that case will be covered by Legal Aid. It is a matter of great sadness to me that the OULGBTQ+ Society is seeking to renew a public attack on me, with all the stress that this entails, at a time when I am seeking to focus my professional attention on the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights.”
Oxford University has been approached for comment.
This article was updated at 11:24 on September 9th to include a comment from Dinah Rose QC.