Current Affairs

Cayman Islands lawyer rebuts Magdalen President’s anti-gay marriage defence

Leading human rights lawyer Dr Leo Raznovich has argued that aspects of Magdalen President Dinah Rose QC’s statement on her involvement in a Caymanian lawsuit are “misleading” .

Raznovich is a barrister who studied at Oxford and Harvard Law School. He is now active in the Cayman Islands and has a long-standing research interest in the effects of anti-gay legislation in the Caribbean. According to his LinkedIN profile, these interests attracted the attention of Pope Francis during his consideration of the “decriminalisation of homosexuality”, and the two had a private audience at the Vatican in 2019.

In part of a lengthy statement sent to students of Magdalen College, Rose said: “The written arguments have already been submitted. Were I to withdraw now, I would cause very serious prejudice to my clients’ interests… The inevitable logic of the argument that is being made, to the effect that fulfilling this brief is incompatible with my role as President, is that no practising barrister could serve as head of any college. It would be impossible for them to comply with the Bar Code of Conduct.” Several other QC’s have stepped up to defend Rose’s position in this regard.

However, the element of the statement to which Dr Raznovich has taken particular exception implies that the right of same-sex couples to have equivalency to those of straight couples in terms of partnership privileges – albeit through a civil partnership rather than marriage – is not fundamentally threatened by this ongoing litigation. Rose said on the issue: “The Cayman Islands Government conceded before the Cayman Court of Appeal in 2019 that the Bill of Rights, like the European Convention, gives a right to civil partnership. As a result, the Cayman Islands now have a Civil Partnership Act, providing for civil partnerships which give legal rights equivalent to marriage.”

Referring specifically to Rose’s comments on the passage of the Caymanian Civil Partnerships Act, Raznovich notes his concern that “representing that the LGBTQ+ people of the Cayman Islands have all the legal rights equivalent to marriage overlooks that such rights, which were given legal effect by the Civil Partnership Act, were already as of 20 November 2020 subject to a legal challenge.”

Raznovich, however, emphasises that the recent passage of the Civil Partnerships Act in the Cayman Islands was only implemented after Colours Caribbean, a charity that focuses on LGBTQ+ rights in the Cayman Islands, wrote “a letter before action” requiring the Caymanian Governor to legislate a civil-rights partnership act in a three month period. After this time-period elapsed, the UK Governor of the Cayman Islands was forced to “step-in and act”, thereby legalising Caymanian civil partnerships despite the Caymanian legislature’s opposition.

In his statement, Raznovich reveals that the Governor’s decisions to allow same-sex civil partnerships is currently under judicial review. Thus, the right to same-sex civil partnerships in the Caribbean is “subject to a legal challenge. Access to those rights therefore may, ultimately, be taken away if the judicial review is successful.”

Raznovich also highlights the secrecy in which this judicial review was undertaken. He notes that a key justice “instructed the court’s administrative personnel not to place any documents related to the matter of the judicial review on the public register and, indeed, requests for a copy of the decision by journalists were persistently met with rejection.” Until 21 January 2021, the Caymanian public were unaware that a judicial review was in process.

However, he alleges that under the procedure for judicial review in the Caribbean, the Governor of the Cayman Islands had to be contacted “via the Attorney General’s Chambers” for the judicial review to go ahead. 

“The Governor”, he continues, “confirmed in a meeting with Colours Caribbean on 28 January 2021 that this procedural step did in fact happen within the required time frame of the applicable rule.  This is absolutely key, because it is the same Attorney General’s Chambers that is instructing Dinah Rose QC.  The THIRD POINT, therefore, is that the Attorney General’s Chambers had known, since the end of November 2020, full details of the judicial review relating to the Governor’s implementation of the Civil Partnership Act.

Subsequently, Raznovich argues that “it is fully expected that the Attorney General’s Chambers would have conveyed all of the facts above to Dinah Rose QC including, critically, the judicial review authorisation to proceed dated 20 November 2020.  Dinah Rose QC fails to mention any of these important background facts and circumstances in her public letter and, to that extent, in my opinion portrays to the public a partial and dangerously misleading picture of the case before the Privy Council that she is fighting for the Cayman Islands Government.“