Attorney general to feature in humanist wedding court case

Attorney General John Larkin will appear at the High Court
Attorney General John Larkin will appear at the High Court

Northern Ireland’s Attorney General is set to feature in a landmark High Court battle for legal recognition of a celebrity couple’s humanist marriage.

Belfast model Laura Lacole is challenging a refusal to officially authorise the ceremony at her wedding to Republic of Ireland footballer Eunan O’Kane next month.

As a judge rejected an 11th-hour bid to adjourn the case, it was confirmed that John Larkin QC has entered an appearance under a notice of devolution.

The attorney general could now make submissions when the hearing gets under way in Belfast on Friday.

Ms Lacole, 27, is seeking to judicially review authorities in Northern Ireland for failing to extend recognition to humanist weddings.

Under current law a couple who want that type of ceremony must also have a separate civil registration for their marriage to be acknowledged officially.

The same situation applies in England and Wales, but not in Scotland or the Republic of Ireland.

Ms Lacole, who is also vice-chair of Atheist NI, claims she is being discriminated against under European laws protecting freedom of belief.

She is challenging the General Register Office’s decision not to authorise the ceremony due to be conducted by a British Humanist Association celebrant.

The action is also directed at the Department of Finance’s alleged failure to introduce legislation allowing her and Mr O’Kane, a midfielder at Leeds United, to have a legally binding wedding event.

Mr Larkin, as attorney general, was notified about the case due to the legal issues involved.

Ahead of the scheduled hearing the department sought an adjournment to enable discussions with the relevant authorities and registers in Britain and the Irish Republic and potentially submit further evidence.

But Steven McQuitty, for Ms Lacole, urged the judge not to put the challenge on hold until after his client’s wedding.

He claimed: “If the adjournment application was granted it would cause massive prejudice to the applicant by effectively denying her what she sought by these proceedings.”

Confirming the case will proceed as scheduled, Mr Justice Colton indicated he may still allow an opportunity for more material to be filed at the end of the hearing.