Chancery Lane faces questions over Andrew Caplen’s support for sexual orientation campaign
The English legal profession was gearing up for a mob-handed showing at tomorrow’s London Pride — but the contingent’s biggest element will be missing its leader, sparking concern that religious beliefs are responsible for his absence.
Suggestions mounted in the run-up to the march — one of the biggest annual events in the sexual-orientation rights calendar — that Law Society president Andrew Caplen had backed away because he can’t reconcile participation with his strongly held Christian beliefs.
Legal Cheek was contacted by those expressing concern that if Caplen’s religion prevented him from appearing at the march, his position could undermine the society’s wider support for sexual-orientation equality.
In the past, Chancery Lane presidents have led the Law Society presence at the event. And indeed, the Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives confirmed that their leaders — Alistair MacDonald QC and David Edwards, respectively — will spearhead the Legal Pride element of tomorrow’s march.
The society confirmed that Caplen would not take part, and initially would not comment on the reasons for his absence.
Instead a Chancery Lane spokesman said:
[Chief executive] Catherine Dixon is a regular attendee of Pride and offered to lead the Law Society’s participation this year. Andrew commits a substantial number of weekends to attend Law Society events.
However, the society issued a later statement saying:
Andrew Caplen had a long-standing personal commitment this weekend. Catherine Dixon will be representing the Law Society and will be joined by some council members and a number of Law Society staff.
Such a high-profile absence is likely to disappoint the many attending Legal Pride and the wider event. The Law Society represents the biggest branch of the legal profession in England and Wales, and it has been actively promoting the march.
A promotional statement on the Law Society website reads:
We will be celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans diversity in the legal profession under the banner ‘Equality under the law’ and promoting the message ‘Legal heroes fighting for LGBT justice’.
The site goes on to pay tribute to a range of lawyers that have battled for homosexual and transgender rights, continuing:
Equality for all under the law is a principle that the legal sector as a whole supports and works to promote. Lawyers are advocates of equal rights for all, whether that be challenging those who make unjust decisions, or defending those who face discrimination of any kind.
Caplen — a market-trader’s son and now a property law consultant solicitor at Hampshire high street firm Heppenstalls — makes no secret of his strong religious upbringing. He mentioned his family’s Methodism in interviews with both The Times newspaper and the Law Gazette when he took the top Law Society slot last year.
Brothers John and Charles Wesley founded Methodism — a non-conformist branch of Christianity that emerged from the Anglican Church — in the mid to late 18th century. Its motto is “born in song”, and while some adherents take a fundamentalist approach to the New Testament, the denomination is not generally viewed as being illiberal on social issues.
There are no suggestions that Caplen has in any way discriminated against homosexuals or transgender people. However, concern has been expressed that, in this instance, religious beliefs could have prevented him from supporting a campaign that has wider Law Society backing.
This afternoon Caplen told Legal Cheek:
As Law Society President I am committed to promoting equality and diversity, to supporting all our members domestically and protecting LGBT people around the world. Equality for all under the law is a central principle of the legal sector. It is my strong belief, as well as that of the legal profession, that discrimination, whether it is on the grounds of race, gender, religion or a person’s sexual orientation, is wrong and should be not be tolerated.
Caplen also has his own supporters from within the Pride movement, with Stephen Ward, deputy chairman of Pride in London, and a former head of communications at the Law Society, commenting:
The suggestion that Andrew Caplen is homophobic in any way is absolutely unfounded. He could not have been more supportive of me personally or of our work on diversity and inclusion in the legal sector.