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Top barrister to act in gay marriage appeal

James Guthrie QC (Photograph from 3 Hare Court website)

A top London barrister is understood to have been asked to represent the Government in an appeal against a Supreme Court decision to quash a ban on same-sex marriage.

It is estimated James Guthrie, QC, who has appeared in island courts before, could cost the public purse between $200,000 and $400,000. Mr Guthrie acted for the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2007 as the family of Rebecca Middleton, a teenage Canadian tourist murdered in 1996, tried to bring fresh charges in the case.

He is a member of London-based 3 Hare Court, and the chambers said he was a “leading silk in civil liberties and human rights work”.

A request for a Special Practising Certificate must be made to the Bar Council for an overseas lead council before they can appear in Bermuda Courts.

A source close to the case said yesterday: “We find it somewhat interesting that a human rights lawyer would be prepared to act for a government that is hellbent on limiting equality for same-sex couples.

“This is now the third time that this significant matter is going to court and the cost to the taxpayer is now being increased further with an attempt to bring in foreign counsel to argue it, when we have a Bermudian Solicitor-General and Bermudian counsels perfectly capable of addressing the key legal issues.”

Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, confirmed in July that the Government was to appeal the landmark court judgment that reversed the same-sex marriage ban.

The move came a month after then Chief Justice Ian Kawaley struck down parts of the Domestic Partnership Act, which aimed to replace same-sex marriage with civil partnerships, on Constitutional grounds.

A special admission application is understood to have been made to the Bar Council for Mr Guthrie to act for the Crown when the case is called in the Court of Appeal in November.

Legal teams acting for the respondents, which include gay rights charity OutBermuda and Maryellen Jackson, are believed to have until the end of this month to object.

Bermuda is the only country in the world to allow same-sex marriage then revoke it.

The Domestic Partnership Act reversed a Supreme Court ruling from May last year which paved the way for gay couples to marry in Bermuda and on island-registered ships around the world.

The legislation came into force on June 1 and offered both gay and heterosexual civil unions instead.

But Mr Justice Kawaley ruled the Act was at odds with the Constitution, which protects the right to freedom of conscience and outlaws discrimination on the basis of creed.

Mr Guthrie’s online profile revealed he has “considerable experience of litigation” in Commonwealth jurisdictions.

One entry said: “Consistently recommended in the main law directories as a leading silk in civil liberties and human rights work, he frequently undertakes Privy Council appeals in such cases, including ‘death row’ cases.”

The Bar Council said it would “not be appropriate” to provide details on special admission applications.

Mr Guthrie directed inquiries to the Attorney-General’s office.

The Government did not respond to a request for comment.

The veteran barrister appeared for the DPP when Ms Middleton’s family tried to get fresh charges brought against two suspects in their daughter’s killing.

In a Supreme Court judicial review, he argued against Cherie Booth, QC, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who asked for the case to be reopened.

Then Chief Justice Richard Ground agreed that the case should not be reopened.

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