Gay cake case: Court of Appeal offers possible route of appeal to Ashers Baking Company over hearing before UK Supreme Court
The bakers at the centre of the ‘gay cake’ case have been told they may have a possible route of appeal to the UK Supreme Court.
Lawyers acting for Ashers Baking Company believed their rights of appeal in the UK courts may have been exhausted following a ruling against them at the Court of Appeal in Belfast.
They asked the judges to confirm whether that was the case at a hearing on Tuesday November 22. But they were told it may be possible to seek a London hearing under a little known legal provision. This may provide them with a limited basis to seek leave to appeal.
The Court of Appeal has now asked for lawyers to make written submissions, probably within the next week.
Ashers is run by the McArthur family who are being backed in their legal battle by The Christian Institute and their spokesman Simon Calvert said:
“This is yet another interesting development in an increasingly complex legal case.
“The family will be consulting again with the legal team before any further decisions are made but initial written submissions require to be made and considered by the judges before anything else happens.
“It is the family’s belief and ours that the recent ruling undermines democratic freedom. It undermines religious freedom. It undermines free speech.”
It is understood the scope of any appeal may be limited to arguing only on certain findings of the court although that will be dealt with at a hearing after submissions have been presented to the judges.
The small family firm went to the Court of Appeal in Belfast in May in a bid to overturn a decision made last year by the County Court, which found it had broken political and sexual orientation discrimination laws.
The Court of Appeal ruled against the McArthur family, who are Christians, for refusing to fulfil an order to make a £36.50 cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage because it conflicted with their deeply-held religious beliefs.
Their lawyers wrote to the Court of Appeal asking them to confirm whether or not a route of appeal to the Supreme Court was available.
At the hearing on Tuesday November 22 the court heard there may be a possible option which will now be explored.
Ashers are required to explore all possible appeal processes in the UK courts in order to preserve the possibility of any future appeal by Ashers to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
In addition, the Attorney General, who intervened in the case at the Court of Appeal sought to refer the Ashers case to the Supreme Court on devolution issues.
Pursued for over two years by the taxpayer-funded Equality Commission, Ashers has mounted a vigorous defence, supported by The Christian Institute.
The parties have also made submissions regarding the legal costs which will be examined later.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which took the case against Ashers, want the McArthur family to pay the costs of the legal proceedings and the Court of Appeal may express a view during the forthcoming hearing.
Mr Calvert said:
“The family continue to be buoyed by enormous levels of public support and are grateful for the thoughts and prayers of their supporters.
“In addition to their own legal action, the Attorney General sought to refer the case to the Supreme Court for it to rule on his arguments about whether the laws that were used against the McArthurs are constitutionally valid.”
• The case follows a decision in 2014 by Ashers to decline an order placed at its Belfast store by a gay rights activist asking for a £36.50 cake featuring the Sesame Street puppets, Bert and Ernie, with the campaign slogan, ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
• The customer also wanted the cake to feature the logo of a Belfast-based campaign group called QueerSpace. Ashers refused to make the cake because it carried a message contrary to the firmly-held Christian beliefs of the owners.
• Ashers Baking Company is being assisted by The Christian Institute, a non-denominational national charity which since 1991 has been working on issues including religious liberty, marriage and the family.
• Ashers Baking Company Limited was set up in 1992 by Colin and Karen McArthur, who are the owners and directors.
• The McArthurs’ son, Daniel, is the company’s General Manager. All three are Christians. They have previously refused other cake printing orders which included pornographic pictures and offensive language, since they clearly conflicted with the teachings of their Christian faith.
• The legal action against Ashers Baking Company is being funded by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland – a taxpayer-funded public body with an annual budget in excess of £6 million.
• The ECNI claims the company’s actions violate equality laws in Northern Ireland and alleges discrimination under two anti-discrimination statutes – The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 and The Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998.
• The ECNI is in favour of introducing same-sex marriage. Its website states: “The Commission supports the introduction of legislation permitting same sex marriage…including sufficient safeguards for religious organisations”.
• The Northern Ireland Assembly has rejected five attempts to redefine marriage since October 2012.