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Gay cake row Belfast bakers may seek ruling from European court

By Staff Reporter

Published 11/11/2016

Owners: Amy and Daniel McArthur
Owners: Amy and Daniel McArthur

The Christian bakers at the centre of a legal battle after they refused to bake a cake with a slogan backing same-sex marriage may have to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Lawyers for the McArthur family, which runs Ashers Bakery, believe it may not be possible to take an appeal to the UK's Supreme Court.

They have asked Belfast's Appeal Court to make a decision. The case could reach Strasbourg only if it cannot be referred to the Supreme Court in London.

Last year, Belfast County Court ruled that the bakery had unlawfully discriminated against gay activist Gareth Lee on grounds of sexual orientation and religious belief or political opinion.

The firm was ordered to pay £500 compensation to Mr Lee, whose legal action was backed by the Equality Commission. Last month the Court of Appeal in Belfast upheld that judgment.

Now, Belfast-based solicitors Hewitt & Gilpin have written to the Court of Appeal seeking a ruling to clarify whether an appeal to the UK Supreme Court is possible.

In their letter to the Court of Appeal, Hewitt & Gilpin said that it appears that "the Judicature Act … does not permit a further appeal by the appellants to the United Kingdom Supreme Court in this case."

Their letter 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 UK Supreme Court is available in this case."

The McArthur family has not yet decided if they wish to pursue their appeal all the way to Strasbourg.

The process of having a case heard by the ECHR at Strasbourg can easily take a number of years.

Simon Calvert, spokesman for The Christian Institute, which has backed the McArthur family 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."

The Christian Institute said NI Attorney General John Larkin could also potentially refer "devolution issues" linked to the cake case to the Supreme Court.

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