The family behind Ashers Baking Co is continuing to consult with lawyers about what options remain open to them after the Belfast Court of Appeal upheld a previous court ruling against them.
Their lawyers have written to the Court of Appeal asking them to confirm that no direct route of appeal to the Supreme Court is available.
This is a necessary procedure to preserve the possibility of any future appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. No decision has been made by the family in relation to that option.
The letter, from Belfast-based instructing solicitors Hewitt & Gilpin, outlines their understanding “that there is no further appeal to the Supreme Court open to them”.
Simon Calvert, spokesman for The Christian Institute, which has backed the McArthur family who own Ashers, 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.”
In their letter to the Court of Appeal, the solicitors state: “It seems to us … the Judicature Act … does not permit a further appeal by the appellants to the United Kingdom Supreme Court in this case.”
But it 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 United Kingdom Supreme Court is available in this case.”
While it may be the Supreme Court route is not open to the company, Ashers would still have another possible appeal route outwith the UK legal system by going directly to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the hope of having their case heard there.
In addition, the Attorney General, who intervened in the case at the Court of Appeal retains his own right to refer the Ashers case to the Supreme Court on the devolution issues.
The parties have made written submissions regarding the legal costs. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which took the case against Ashers, want the McArthur family to pay the costs of the legal proceedings. It is possible there may be a brief hearing in the next few weeks to deal with such administrative matters.