Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Public Defender should have say in gay rights case — attorney

Published:Wednesday | February 22, 2017 | 2:20 PM

The Office of the Public Defender, which is fighting to join a gay rights case, has argued before a court that it cannot shirk its duties to protect citizens' rights because an issue may be unpopular.

Queen's Counsel Lord Anthony Gifford, who is representing the Office, made the argument this morning in the Court of Appeal.

The court is hearing an appeal brought by the Public Defender against a decision of a lower court barring the office from appearing in a challenge brought against the buggery law.

Last year, Supreme Court judge, Kissock Laing, sided with the Attorney General in ruling against allowing the Public Defender to join the case as an interested party.

Among other things, the judge said the Public Defender is seeking to join a case about a divisive issue which could affect public confidence in the office.

The Attorney General's lawyers had also argued that the office was limited to investigations of alleged breaches committed by state agencies or representatives.

This morning, Lord Gifford argued that the law establishing the Office of the Public Defender was different from other similar bodies because it was set up to protect and enforce the rights of citizens.

He argued that the office is not limited to just investigations.

One of the three judges hearing the case, Justice Marva McDonald Bishop, noted that the case brought by gay rights activist, Maurice Tomlinson, is against a law of Parliament and not against any alleged rights infringement by a state agency or representative.

Justice McDonald Bishop asked if the Public Defender's Office was also interested in a case challenging an act of Parliament to which the attorney said yes.

Lord Gifford argued that because the case relates to rights, the public defender has a valid reason to make a contribution to the case.

He contended that if the Public Defender does not participate in the case, because it is about an unpopular issue, this could be seen as betraying the mandate of the office.