Today’s dramatic adjournment of the Ashers Baking Company appeal hearing until 9 May confirms the importance of the case, The Christian Institute has said.
The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Declan Morgan, made the decision at the Court of Appeal only minutes into the day’s proceedings.
A last minute intervention from Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin QC prompted the move.
Mr Larkin raised questions over the constitutional validity and effect of the regulations on which the case is based.
His argument concerns Northern Ireland’s particular political and religious equality legislation and the regulations relating to sexual orientation discrimination.
A one-day hearing on technical legal matters has been scheduled for Thursday 3 March. A further four days have been allocated for the full appeal hearing on Monday 9 May.
The McArthurs are being backed by The Christian Institute, which is funding their defence costs from its Legal Defence Fund.
Spokesman for the Institute Simon Calvert said the Attorney General’s intervention needs to be given serious consideration: “The court has adjourned the hearing because of the importance of the issues at stake.
“The Attorney General has raised a number of issues. We were neutral as to whether those issues came in but the Court and all the parties involved take those arguments seriously and want to make sure that they are all properly addressed.
We know we’ve got a great caseSimon Calvert
“These arguments were not part of the McArthur family’s case – we were ready to go today but we respect the legal process and we will be back again on 9 May.
“We know we’ve got a great case and that we’ve got right on our side – the court should rule in our favour.”
He added: “It’s been a difficult time for the McArthur family but they are patient people and they simply want all the issues to be properly heard and that will now happen on 9 May.
Daniel McArthur, General Manager of Ashers Baking Company, said: “We have every confidence in our legal team and the arguments which were to be put forward and we had also clearly placed our trust, as always, in God.”
The Lord Chief Justice said it was “most unfortunate” that the issue had been raised at such short notice.
He added that although all involved had attempted to proceed with the case, “It seems to us that it is simply not possible to do that without running into some risk of fairness in the hearing.”
“We are not going to proceed with the hearing today.”
Earlier in the day Mr McArthur spoke outside the court to say that the family was looking forward to the opportunity to have their case heard by the Lord Chief Justice because they believe the county court got the original ruling wrong.
Mr McArthur said: “Ashers does not discriminate against anyone. We took issue with the message on the cake and not the customer and as a family we believe we should retain the freedom to decline business that would force us to promote a cause with which we disagree.
“As Christians we can’t simply switch off our faith when we enter the workplace on a Monday morning.
“To be a Christian at all is to strive to live for Christ in every corner of our lives.”