Newspaper pays top KC “substantial damages” for libel

Rose: Shocked by article

The Times has apologised to a leading KC and paid her “substantial damages” for alleging that she had wrongly used the cab-rank rule to justify acting in a controversial case on same-sex marriage.

Dinah Rose KC said she had been “shocked and distressed by the article”, which was published last November.

Ms Rose came under the spotlight in 2021 after she acted for the Cayman Islands government before the Privy Council in successfully arguing that the Caribbean islands’ constitution did not confer a right on same-sex couples to marry and have their marriage recognised in law.

The barrister is particularly known for her human rights and civil liberties work, and is also president of Magdalen College in Oxford. She was criticised by students at the university and by a LGBTQIA+ group called Colours Caribbean for taking on the case.

In response, Ms Rose cited the cab-rank rule and was backed by the Bar Standards Board (BSB), which agreed that the foreign work exception to the rule did not apply where, as here, the court was sitting in England and Wales.

At the time, she tweeted that “I unequivocally support LGBTQ+ rights” and said the case concerned a constitutional point on whether the decision to allow same-sex marriage rested with the courts or the legislature; it was not whether same-sex marriage should be allowed or not.

Colours Caribbean nonetheless complained to the BSB and in a press release in October 2022 said Ms Rose had wrongly claimed that she had been professionally obliged to accept the instructions and that the BSB had actually concluded the case fell within an exemption from the cab-rank rule, which Ms Rose should have known.

“Taking this at its highest, this might possibly amount to evidence of recklessness,” it reported the BSB saying.

However, the press release did not put this comment into context or include anything else from the BSB, except to say that, “despite these damning findings”, the regulator had decided not to take any action against Ms Rose.

This was reported by The Times under the headline ‘Law chiefs rule against college head in gay row’.

The BSB issued a public apology to Ms Rose the following day, stressing that it has taken no regulatory action, had not made a ruling against her and that she had acted in accordance with the cab-rank rule.

Reading a statement in open court yesterday, her counsel, William Bennett KC, said: “Ms Rose was shocked and distressed by the article. She considers the professional obligation of barristers to accept instructions in controversial or unpopular cases to be an important matter of constitutional principle.

“The rule of law and the proper administration of justice require that access to legal advice and advocacy should not be denied to those whose opinions are objectionable to barristers or to members of the public.”

The Times accepted that the article was wrong and offered her its “sincere apologies”. It also published an apology in yesterday’s newspaper.

Mr Bennett said the newspaper had agreed to pay “substantial damages and her legal costs”.

Ms Rose’s solicitor, Mark Lewis, a partner at Patron Law, said: “This case went to the very heart of a barrister’s ability to represent their client irrespective of views that some might disagree with.

“It was unexpected that those at the Bar Standards Board and The Times did not know the answer to oft repeated question ‘How can you represent…?’”

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