Court delays ‘anti-gay’ bakery case over potential human rights ‘conflict’

An appeal by the bakers at the centre of the “gay cake” discrimination battle has been adjourned for three months.

The adjournment follows a last minute intervention by Northern Ireland’s top legal advisor, Attorney General John Larkin QC, to investigate concerns the country’s equality laws conflict with human rights legislation.

The owners of Ashers Bakery in Belfast were found guilty of unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation and political or religious grounds, after the company refused to bake a cake showing the message ‘Support Gay Marriage’ above an image of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie for customer and LGBT activist Gareth Lee.

Despite losing its initial case, Colin and Karen McArthur are pursuing a legal appeal of the ruling which was set to start today (February 3) – with the couple receiving financial and legal help from the anti-LGBT group the Christian Institute.

Two days had been set aside for the appeal – but proceedings at Belfast’s High Court were dramatically halted after it emerged the region’s Attorney General wanted to address any potential conflict between the local equality legislation and European human rights laws.

The judge who was set to hear the case expressed frustration – but said the case could not go ahead at this stage.

“It is most unfortunate this issue has arisen only two days before this hearing,” Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan told the packed court.

“Although we have all tried to see if we could proceed with the case given the amount of work that has been done.

“It seems to us that it is simply not possible to do that without running into some risk of fairness in the hearing.” he added.

“We are not going to proceed with the hearing today.”

Dr Michael Wardlow – chief commissioner with the Equality Commission – expressed disappointment at the delay.

“We came here today for this very important case and we were looking forward to hearing the arguments,” he told The Belfast Telegraph.

“We are very disappointed that at this very late stage another argument has come in and that has to be resolved.

“The reality is it could take months.”

The appeal will now take place on May 9.