Ashers appeal halted amid intervention by Northern Ireland's top legal adviser

Wed 03 Feb 2016
By Antony Bushfield

The appeal of the Christian run Ashers Baking Company, found to have discriminated against a gay customer, has been halted after a dramatic intervention from Northern Ireland's top legal adviser.

Attorney General John Larkin QC announced at the last minute there could be a potential conflict between the nation's equality legislation and European human rights laws.

Mr Larkin has ordered a legal representation regarding the potential conflict in laws to be made in Ashers' appeal against its discrimination verdict, which will take months to prepare.

The bakery, run by Daniel and Amy McArthur, refused to bake a customer's order for a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage slogan.

Last year a judge ruled that was unlawful.



Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, who was senior judge in the trial, said: "It is most unfortunate this issue has arisen only two days before this hearing.

"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.

"We are not going to proceed with the hearing today."

Dr Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner with Northern Ireland's 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.

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

Lesley-Anne McKeown, a Press Association reporter, told Premier's News Hour live outside Belfast High Court: "The Attorney wanted to make [legal] representation in the high-profile case.

"The Attorney wanted to address a devolution issue which means that he wanted to explore with the court whether there was any incompatibility issues between local legislation and the UK's obligations under the Human Rights Act.

Mrs McKeown said that because of the Attorney General's intervention, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan was forced to act as well: "He didn't want to salami slice he hearing and have it part heard now, for the Attorney to come back in several weeks with a counter-argument, which would effectively mean that today's proceedings - if they had gone on to tomorrow - would've been redundant."

The appeal has been adjourned until May.

Listen to Premier's Hannah Tooley speaking to Lesley-Anne McKeown on the News Hour:

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