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Magdalen President wins case against same sex couples’ right to marry

The Oxford University LGBTQ+ Society and the African Caribbean Society have released a joint statement expressing a “deep sadness” about the recent Privy Council judgement in favour of the Cayman Island Government and against same sex couples’ right to marry. The letter condemns Dinah Rose’s, the President of Magdalen College, success in representing the Cayman Islands in the Privy Council case. 

The case was held on the issue of same sex marriage in both the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. In the Cayman Islands’ case, the ruling was unanimous, deciding that the matter was one of choice for the legislative assembly, rather than a right granted by the Caymanian Constitution. 

The joint statement expressed that the outcome of the case “denies LGBTQ+ Caymanians, who are also British citizens, full equality, their human dignity, and continues to uphold the segregation of LGBTQ+ people in the region.”

“It also regrettably reconfirms the lack of LGTQ+ rights in British Overseas Territories and the disinterest of the UK Government in promoting equality for all British citizens,” they added. 

The Cayman Islands Government was successfully represented by barrister Dinah Rose QC, who said the Constitution is “crystal clear,” and there is no right to marry for gay couples. 

In the statement released, the OULGBTQ+ Society reiterated its stance that “it is an unacceptable conflict of interest for serving College Heads to be involved in homophobic litigation, seeking to entrench inequality and segregation of LGBTQ+ British citizens in a British Overseas Territory.”

The statement references Magdalen’s Equality Policy, which provides that College staff must have “due regard to removing or minimising advantages suffered by people due to protected characteristics found in the Equality Act 2010, which includes sexual orientation.” 

The two societies wrote that “irrespective of Ms DInah Rose’s private views on LGBTQ+ rights, her role as counsel for the Cayman Government entailed a duty to fight for her client’s best, homophobic, interests to the best of her ability, running counter to her LGBTQ+ and ethnic minority students’ best interests, the College’s Equality Policy, and the general reputational interests and pastoral duties of any Oxford College Head.”

Rose has previously faced criticism amongst the student body surrounding a perceived conflict of interest between her duties as President of Magdalen College and as a professional barrister.

When faced with such criticisms, Rose cited her being bound by the cab rank rule. The cab rank rule applies to a number of courts, including the Privy Council, which obliges a barrister to accept an instruction to appear in a court sitting in England in an area of expertise pertaining to the barrister, and issued when the barrister is available to act. 

Rose has said that if she were to succumb to pressure to cease to act on the case, she would be committing an act of “serious professional misconduct.” 

On the topic of the cab rank rule, the joint statement expressed: “We are not asking for lawyers to be identified with the clients they represent. We merely ask that serving College Heads do not engage in activities which adversely impact marginalised minority groups. At times, acting for a client as legal counsel will entail exactly that.”

“Specifically, regardless of its legal nature, the cab rank rule should not serve as the litmus test as to whether College Head duties were complied with, and a conflict of interest exists. The starting point for this question is, and must be, the equality policy and other Governance rules of a respective college.”

The outgoing President of the OULGBTQ+ Society, Clay Nash, said that Rose never publicly disagreed with the precise matter of the case and her client’s aims, calling this lack of public statement “not surprising given her duty to act in the client’s best interests.” Nash shared that the main opportunity that student’s received to inquire about the matter was a “confidential, closed-off meeting which [Rose] explicitly warned students was strictly confidential.” 

The OULGBTQ+ Society attempted twice to discover through Freedom of Information requests whether or not Rose had disclosed the nature and content matter of the case to Magdalen in advance of her assumption of her position of President, including who she was representing, and whether or not the Magdalen LGBTQ+ Officers were able to review this information when considering her for the position. Having not received the relevant information, Nash commented that “this matter of accountability, and whether the Magdalen Governing Board failed its due diligence in the selection process, remain unknown.”

On this issue, Nash told Cherwell: “This situation has highlighted a major and dangerous omission in College and University policy that leaves marginalised students within Oxford vulnerable. There should be no opportunity for the external work of College Heads to conflict with their pre-eminent role and their pastoral duties. I have no doubt that if formal policy on this matter is not introduced, another situation similar to this will arise in the future and it will once again be the most marginalised that are the worst affected.” Nash proposed a series of policy recommendations to the Conference of Colleges and the University in order to address this. So far, none of the policy recommandations have been implemented.

The joint letter also highlighted that “one cannot ignore the racial dynamics at play here as Caribbean students have historically faced prejudice and discrimination at the hands of Britain and the University. Ms Rose’s involvement is a continuation of that legacy.”

Savannah Stanislaus, the Senior Welfare Officer and LGBTQ+ Representative of the African Caribbean Society, told Cherwell: “I am beyond disappointed by the outcome  regarding the Cayman Islands same-sex marriage case and I expect that many share this feeling of despair with me. Since it was announced last year that the President of Magdalen College, Ms Dinah Rose, would be representing the Caymanian Government in this case, there has been an outpour of support from fellow students for the LGBTQ+ community within Oxford as well as for the couple in question.”

“However, the Caribbean community and by extension the black community within Oxford have not been given this same support, as there has been little attention to the colonial and racial elements of this case. Ms Dinah Rose has not only failed the LGBT+ community in and outside of Oxford but she has also exercised her systemic privilege in this case and has directly contributed to the on-going legacy of white supremacy and colonialism. Ms Dinah Rose has sent the message loud and clear that Caribbean students and those who are Caribbean and LGBTQ+ that our lives and wellbeing are insignificant to her. She has contributed to an already dangerous culture of discrimination and bigotry for Caribbean and LGBTQ+ students. I ask that you don’t allows us Caribbean and Caribbean LGBT+ students to be drowned out by the voices of those less affected by this. We matter.”

The societies extended their “heartfelt sympathies” to Chantelle and Vickie, the couple who brought the case and subsequently appealed it, and whose “enormous efforts over multiple years had sought to vindicate LGBTQ+ rights in the Cayman Islands.” 

The University of Oxford, Magdalen College, and Dinah Rose were approached for comment. 

Image Credit: Diliff / CC BY-SA 3.0

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