University of Oxford president tries to defend fighting against same-sex marriage in the Cayman Islands

Dinah Rose QC, president of Magdalen College, University of Oxford.

Students have been left “shocked and disappointed” that the new president of Magdalen College – part of the University of Oxford – will represent the Cayman Islands in fighting against same-sex marriage.

Barrister Dinah Rose QC took office as the president of the University of Oxford’s Magdalen College in September, 2020, and became the first woman to hold the post.

However, despite leading the college which says it “aims to provide an inclusive environment which promotes equality, values diversity”, in 2019 Rose represented the government of the Cayman Islands it its successful bid to overturn marriage equality.

In March, 2019, same-sex marriage was legalised with immediate effect in the Cayman Islands following a lawsuit by a lesbian couple. However in November the same year, the islands’ government won an appeal to overturn the legalisation.

The Court of Appeal ruled that although same-sex marriage will be re-criminalised, the territory should immediately offer unions which have a “legal status equivalent to marriage”. These civil partnerships finally became available almost a year later.

Although Rose originally represented the Caymanian government before she was hired by the university, she is set to argue again that same-sex marriage should remain illegal in British overseas territory, when the case is appealed to the Privy Council in the UK.

One LGBT+ student at Magdalen, which was the University of Oxford college of Oscar Wilde, told Cherwell, the independent student newspaper at the University of Oxford: “Obviously I’m disheartened by this news as all of us in college had high hopes for her presidency.

“I still hope that she doesn’t hold any homophobic views personally and I’d like to hear a statement from her to clarify her position on it.”

Another queer student said: “I’m shocked and disappointed to hear of Dinah Rose’s involvement in this case.

“I feel this is incompatible with her role as the president of the college and with her duties to LGBT+ students.”

Edwin Cameron, a University of Oxford alumnus and retired South African judge, who is now an LGBT+ rights activist and president of Stellenbosch University, said in a statement: “I express my distress and dismay that Ms Dinah Rose QC, the new president of Magdalen, is lead counsel on behalf of the government of the Cayman Islands in litigation that seeks to deny equality for LGBT+ people.”

Cameron acknowledged that “everyone has the right to legal representation”, but added: “The president of Magdalen has professionally embraced this cause. She did not have to. There are some 1700 QCs in London. There is no shortage of counsel available to litigate on behalf of homophobia in the Caribbean.”

“The litigation Ms Rose QC leads forms part of and actively reinforces the continuum of violence against LGBT+ people throughout the Caribbean,” he added.

“It sends the same damaging, humiliating and stigmatising message to the LGBT+ community of Oxford and Magdalen: you are not equal, and I will not protect and defend your right to dignity.”

Responding to criticism, Rose said in a statement: “It is a long-standing principle, essential to the maintenance of access to justice and the rule of law that a lawyer is not to be equated with their client, and is not to be subject to pressure to reject an unpopular brief.”

She continued: “As it happens, I have argued a number of cases that have advanced LGBT+ rights, including some pioneering trans rights cases in the 1990s, and a recent case in the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, which won for gay couples the right to immigration visas on the same terms as mixed-sex couples.

“I am due to appear in Hong Kong later this year for a claimant who is seeking the right to change the record of their gender on their identity card.

“But this is irrelevant. In all cases, my task is the same: to advise and represent my clients, and to put all arguments in their favour that may properly be made, regardless of my own views.”

Rose also told PinkNews: “I am firmly committed to maintaining and enhancing an inclusive, diverse and welcoming community at Magdalen, and to protecting the welfare of all students, and in particular the LGBT+ community.

“This commitment does not conflict with the discharge of my professional duties as a barrister in this case. The contention that it does is based on the erroneous proposition that the views of a client can be attributed to their barrister.”