Belfast Telegraph

Gay cake row bakers Ashers legal costs 'top £100k'

Attorney General to get involved in appeal over same-sex marriage cake

By David Young and Alan Erwin

Legal costs in the 'same-sex cake' case have soared to over £100,000, it was claimed yesterday.

The claim, made by Christian Institute spokesman Simon Calvert, came as a Belfast court gave the green light for Northern Ireland's Attorney General to become involved in a Christian-run bakery's appeal against being found to have discriminated against a gay customer.

Senior judges in Belfast decided he had raised an arguable case that sexual orientations regulations in Northern Ireland directly discriminate against those who hold religious beliefs or political opinions. The move gives Mr Larkin authorisation to make representations when Ashers Baking Company seeks to overturn the verdict against them at a full hearing in May.

The bakery, run by the McArthur family, is appealing the outcome of legal action over its refusal to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.

Last year Belfast County Court held that the bakery had discriminated against customer Gareth Lee on grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs.

The company was ordered to pay £500 in damages to the gay rights activist. Backed by the Equality Commission, Mr Lee sued the Co Antrim-based firm after it refused an order placed at its Belfast city centre shop in May 2014.

Following yesterday's decision by the judges, Simon Calvert of The Christian Institute, which is supporting the McArthur family in the case, said: "The Attorney General has decided to intervene, using his constitutional power to raise questions about the validity of the legislation used against the McArthurs. And it is clear from the decision taken by the three judges, including the Lord Chief Justice, that he has raised matters of importance. These will now be fully argued when the appeal comes before the court in May.

"By the time the full hearing takes place it will be two years since the £36.50 cake at the centre of what has become a legal, political and theological saga, was ordered.

"So far, the case has generated legal costs on both sides which, combined, have broken the £100,000 barrier," Mr Calvert said. According to the Christian Institute spokesman, the McArthur family's legal costs are already well over £50,000.

"I'm sure the Equality Commission's costs are at least as high," he added.

"People are entitled to ask whether the Equality Commission should have chosen to bring the legal action over a £36.50 cake.

"It is 665 days since the cake was ordered, and we are a long way from securing a legal resolution to the case," Mr Calvert said.

Although the County Court judge accepted Ashers was entitled to have "genuine and deeply held" religious views, the judge said the business was not above the law.

The judge's ruling is now to be examined by the Court of Appeal.

It will determine whether the judge was correct in law to hold that Ashers discriminated against Mr Lee on grounds of sexual orientation and religious belief or political opinion.

Lawyers for the McArthurs are also expected to argue that they had protection under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Their planned appeal was dramatically stalled last month following the Attorney General's last-minute intervention.

The McArthurs' main appeal begins on May 9.

Belfast Telegraph

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