Lawyer for Gareth Lee says “Mr Lee & the commission were absolutely ready to defend the judgement today”
The Ashers Baking Co. appeal has been dramatically halted following intervention from Attorney General Larkin.
Only moments into the hearing Lord Chief Justice agreed that he should adjourn the appeal until May 9 where it will sit for a further four days.
John Larkin QC’s lawyer raised legal issues with the court regarding discrimination and equality legislation. The courts have specified that they will also need to decide whether it raises a devolution point which opens the door for Attorney General John Larkin QC to become involved in the case.
His argument concerns a potential conflict between Northern Ireland’s political and religious equality legislation – specifically framed to address the unique historical differences in the Province – and the regulations relating to sexual orientation discrimination.
A one-day hearing on technical legal matters has been scheduled for Monday 3 March. A further four days have been allocated for the full appeal hearing on Monday 9 May. The McArthur’s legal costs are being funded by The Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund.
Spokesman for the Institute Simon Calvert said the Attorney General’s intervention needs to be given serious consideration: “The court has adjourned the hearing because of the importance of the issues at stake.
“The Attorney General has raised a number of issues. We were neutral as to whether those issues came in but the Court and all the parties involved take those arguments seriously and want to make sure that they are all properly addressed.
“These arguments were not part of the McArthur family’s case – we were ready to go today but we respect the legal process and we will be back again on 9 May.
The Northern Ireland Equality Commission said it was very disappointed the case was unable to proceed.
Outside of the courtroom Mr Lee has not spoken publicly about the case. Gareth Lee arrived at court accompanied by the Equality Commission’s chief commissioner, Dr Michael Wardlow.
“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.”
Dr Wardlow clarified that the case was not an attack on religious freedom as has been suggested.