Ashers Baking Company is continuing to consult with lawyers about what options remain open for appeal.
Lawyers for the McArthur family, who own and run Ashers, have written to the Court of Appeal asking them to confirm that no direct route of appeal to the Supreme Court is available.
This is a necessary procedure to preserve the possibility of any future appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. No decision has been made by the family in relation to that option.
In a letter to the Court of Appeal, Belfast-based instructing solicitors Hewitt & Gilpin, state: “It seems to us … the Judicature Act … does not permit a further appeal by the appellants to the United Kingdom Supreme Court in this case.”
“In view of the complexity of these issues, however, and the wider public importance which this case clearly has, and in order to make clear that the appellants [Ashers] have exhausted their domestic remedies … we respectfully invite the Court of Appeal to consider giving a short ruling on the question of whether appeal to the United Kingdom Supreme Court is available in this case”.
While it may not be possible to appeal to the Supreme Court, Ashers may be able to go directly to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
In addition, the Attorney General, who intervened in the case at the Court of Appeal, retains his own right to refer the Ashers case to the Supreme Court on devolution issues.
John Larkin QC intervened in the case in February this year, arguing that the laws used against Ashers go against Northern Ireland’s constitutional law.
The parties have also made written submissions regarding the legal costs. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which took Ashers to court, want the McArthur family to pay the costs of the legal proceedings. It is possible there may be a brief hearing in the next few weeks to deal with this.
On 24 October judges at the Court of Appeal in Belfast upheld a previous ruling against Ashers, which said the McArthur family had discriminated against customer Gareth Lee by refusing to bake a cake bearing the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’.
The judges recognised that the family did not refuse the service because Mr Lee was gay, but nonetheless ruled that refusing the order because of its slogan “was direct discrimination”.