Public gallery was full for Ashers hearing despite dense legal arguments

The engineer in charge of the live stream of the Supreme Court proceedings. Members of the public who could not be fitted in the makeshift court room watched yesterday's hearing in an overflow room
The engineer in charge of the live stream of the Supreme Court proceedings. Members of the public who could not be fitted in the makeshift court room watched yesterday's hearing in an overflow room

The makeshift Supreme Court room in Belfast’s Royal Courts of Justice has 60 seats for members of the public, and around another 40 for lawyers, officials and people involved in the case being heard, writes Ben Lowry.

On Monday, the first day the UK’s highest court had ever sat in Northern Ireland, the public gallery section of the chamber was at least half full.

Trevor Boyd, of Ballymena Gospel Outreach, seen above outside court in 2015 to support a Christian rights case, was among the supporters of Ashers bakery at the Supreme Court hearing in Belfast on Tuesday May 1 2018

Trevor Boyd, of Ballymena Gospel Outreach, seen above outside court in 2015 to support a Christian rights case, was among the supporters of Ashers bakery at the Supreme Court hearing in Belfast on Tuesday May 1 2018

But yesterday it was entirely full, and members of the public spilled over into a nearby overflow room, from where they could watch the footage streamed live on a screen.

The crowd had been lured to the court by the combination of the novelty of seeing a Supreme Court sitting, and the fact that the appeal being heard yesterday was by Ashers bakery, the company that declined to bake a ‘gay cake’.

Many of the people present had supported Ashers at its previous hearings in Belfast’s Crown and Appeal courts.

One such person was Trevor Boyd, of Ballymena Gospel Outreach, who said he was back to see the case again yesterday because the bakery had suffered “discrimination” because they were Christian.

Most of the audience sat through the nearly three-hour morning court sitting, which examined dense legal arguments. The lawyers and judges did not so much as stop for a toilet break. At one point the court president, Lady Hale, injected humour into the session when she told David Scoffield QC, for Ashers: “Your textural arguments are very important, dull though they may be.”

Mr Scoffield is aged only in his early 40s but has already appeared before the Supreme Court several times. The QC for the Equality Commission, Robin Allen, has been at the bar longer and been in 40 cases before the Supreme Court.