Ashers Baking Company continue to consider legal options following Court of Appeal decision
The family behind Ashers Baking Co is continuing to consult with lawyers about what options remain open to them after the Belfast Court of Appeal upheld a previous court ruling against them.
Their lawyers 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.
The letter, from Belfast-based instructing solicitors Hewitt & Gilpin, outlines their understanding “that there is no further appeal to the Supreme Court open to them”.
Simon Calvert, spokesman for The Christian Institute, which has backed the McArthur family who own Ashers, said:
“Under the complex rules regarding appeals in civil cases, such as the Ashers case, the Court of Appeal decision seems to be final, according to the terms of the Judicature Act 1978.”
In their letter to the Court of Appeal, the solicitors 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.”
But it continues:
“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 be the Supreme Court route is not open to the company, Ashers would still have another possible appeal route outwith the UK legal system by going directly to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the hope of having their case heard there.
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 the devolution issues.
The parties have made written submissions regarding the legal costs. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which took the case against Ashers, 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 such administrative matters.
· 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, Mr Gareth Lee, 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.
Notes for editors
• Watch a video of Daniel and Amy McArthur speaking to Sky News about the court case. Broadcast October 2016.
• Read a fact sheet with more details about the case: http://www.christian.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/ashers-factsheet-sept16.pdf
• Read Aidan O’Neill QC’s legal opinion on the implications of the case for freedom of conscience and expression: http://www.christian.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/opinion-re-ashers-bakery-case_12March2015.pdf
• Attorney General for Northern Ireland John Larkin QC, intervened in the case at the Court of Appeal. He said if the County Court ruling against Ashers was right, the laws used against the bakery fall foul of Northern Ireland’s constitutional law. Mr Larkin said: “Although the case for the Plaintiff is put pleasantly and with every appearance of sweet reasonableness, what cannot be disguised is that the Defendants are being compelled, on pain of civil liability, to burn a pinch of incense at the altar of a god they do not worship. The constitutional law of Northern Ireland, supplemented by the ECHR, resists such a compulsion.”