Northern Ireland

Ashers 'gay cake' row: Bakery will not seek legal costs

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Media captionWatch how the controversial case has unfolded

A bakery at the centre of the "gay cake" case will not seek costs from the Equality Commission for NI, which brought the case against it.

In October the UK's highest court ruled that Ashers bakery's refusal to make a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage was not discriminatory.

The five justices on the Supreme Court were unanimous in their judgement.

The high-profile dispute began in 2014 when the bakery refused to make a cake with the slogan "Support Gay Marriage".

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Media captionDaniel and Amy McArthur, who own Ashers Bakery in Belfast, arrive at the Supreme Court in London

The customer, gay rights activist Gareth Lee, sued the company for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs.

But the bakery has always insisted its objection was to the message on the cake, not the customer.

Ashers lost the case and the subsequent appeal, but the firm won its appeal at the Supreme Court.

Ashers were backed in the case by the Christian Institute (CI).

Colin Hart, director of the CI, said it the institute, Ashers and their lawyers decided not to seek costs because it "does not want an unhelpful precedent in relation to costs - even if it might benefit in the short term".

Mr Hart explained that, in a previous case, the CI had argued that each side should pay their own costs because of the "wider public interest" nature of the case.

That case in 2013 was cited when Ashers lost in the Court of Appeal in 2016. In response, the judges decided not to make a large costs order against Ashers, Mr Hart said.

He added that "it is important to Ashers and to us that the approach to costs now is consistent with what was previously argued".

The legal battle - which has lasted four-and-a-half years and has cost nearly £500,000 so far - raised questions over equality and freedom of conscience.

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Image caption Gareth Lee has been supported throughout the legal action by the taxpayer-funded Equality Commission

Mr Hart said the "generosity" of CI supporters had ensured Ashers' owners were not "out of pocket" over the legal case and he thanked them for their continued support.

The Equality Commission's own costs, in total, for all three hearings were £250,603.

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