Lee (Gareth) v Ashers Baking Co Ltd and Colin McArthur and Karen McArthur

JurisdictionNorthern Ireland
JudgeDistrict Judge Brownlie
Judgment Date19 May 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] NICty 2
Date19 May 2015
Year2015
CourtCounty Court (Northern Ireland)
1
Neutral Citation No. [2015] NICty 2 Ref:
Judgment: approved by the Court for handing down Delivered: 19/05/2015
(subject to editorial corrections)*
IN THE COUNTY COURT IN NORTHERN IRELAND
________
GARETH LEE
Plaintiff
V
ASHERS BAKING Co Ltd
1st Defendant
and
COLIN McARTHUR
2nd Defendant
and
KAREN McARTHUR
3rd Defendant
________
Presiding District Judge Brownlie
Introduction
[1] The Plaintiff claims that he has been discriminated against contrary to the
provisions of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland)
2006 - [2006 Regulations] and/or the Fair Employment and Treatment Order 1998 -
[1998 Order].
[2] The Defendants deny that they have discriminated unlawfully and oppose the
grant of any relief and, furthermore, assert that the Defendants are entitled to refuse
to supply services which could conflict with freedom of conscience or religious
belief.
Summary of evidence
Plaintiff’s Evidence
2
[3] The Plaintiff, who is a gay man, is associated with an organization called
QueerSpace which is a volunteer led organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgendered community in Northern Ireland. In his witness statement he said:-
QueerSpace" seeks to increase visibility of the [LGBT]
community in a positive manner and to counteract the
disregard and negative images presented to the general
public over the past centuries.”
[4] There had been political debate in Northern Ireland as to whether the
Assembly should introduce similar legislation to that in England and Wales and
Scotland which enables same-sex couples to acquire married status in civil law on
the same basis as opposite sex couples.
[5] The Assembly voted for the third time on this issue on the 29th April 2014 and
again rejected the motion calling for the introduction of same sex marriage in
Northern Ireland but this time by a narrow margin.
[6] The Plaintiff was planning to attend a private event on Friday 17th May 2014
to mark the end of the Northern Ireland anti - homophobia week and to mark the
political momentum towards legislation for same-sex marriage.
[7] The Plaintiff decided to purchase a cake for the event. He had previously
purchased items at this branch of the 1st Defendant Company and had become
aware from a leaflet that he could have a cake iced with a graphic of his own design.
[8] The Plaintiff placed the order on the 8th or 9th of May 2014. His order was
accepted without any comment and he did not sense that there was any issue or
concern about the graphic. He paid for the cake and was given a receipt.
[9] On Monday 12th May, the Plaintiff received a call from the 3rd Defendant
indicating that the order could not be fulfilled as they are a Christian business and,
in hindsight, she should not have taken the order. She apologized and arranged for a
refund. The Plaintiff expressed disbelief in that it was only a cake and indicated that
what they were doing was not right and that he would seek advice. He sent an e
mail later that day in which he said:-
“… I was disappointed to receive a telephone call today
advising that you will not follow through on the order as
you are a “Christian business”. I am obviously very
disappointed and at a loss to understand why you
cancelled my order that I placed in good faith. It has
caused quite a lot of inconvenience…”
3
[10] The Plaintiff was able to find another bakery in time to provide a cake with
the required design.
[11] The Plaintiff described his reaction as shocked and bewildered and felt that
the cancellation had been because he is gay and supports same-sex marriage. He did
not believe that it was because it is a Christian business as he had grown up in a
Christian tradition and not all Christians would make such a judgment. He said:-
“I am a middle aged man and have encountered
homophobia in my life but this blatant refusal of a service
made me feel like a second class citizen. It is not at all nice
to think that a business will discriminate in the way that
they provide services to me because I am gay or because I
have political views about the need for legislation to
support gay marriage or because I did not share their
religious views.
…It is not right that I should have to consider every time I
go into a shop whether the business can choose to serve
me depending on its views of my sexual orientation,
religion or politics.
…I was not asking the Defendants to share or support my
perceived political views on gay marriage. The graphic
did not say this. I was simply asking them to provide me
with the service they advertise in their shops.
… I cannot believe that it is good for our community if
one commercial organization with particular political or
religious views can refuse to supply services to a member
of the public who they identify as having the wrong kind
of sexual orientation, politics or religion.”
The Defendants’ Evidence
[12] The 1st Defendant is a limited company in the bakery business. Whilst its
name is derived from a reference in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 49:20 which says
“Bread from Asher shall be rich, and he shall yield royal dainties”, it does not have
any religious objectives in its Memorandum and Articles of Association nor in its
advertising material or Terms and conditions.
[13] The 2nd and 3rd Defendants are Directors of the 1st Defendant Company and
have worked in the bakery business all their working lives and formed the company
in 1992. It has six branches with a staff of about 65 and net assets of over one million
pounds. There is an on-line service and cakes are distributed throughout the UK and
the Republic of Ireland.

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1 cases
  • Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd and Others
    • United Kingdom
    • Supreme Court
    • 10 October 2018
    ...was compatible with the Convention rights. She made a declaration to that effect and awarded Mr Lee damages in the agreed sum of £500: [2015] NICty 2. 16 The defendants appealed by way of case stated to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal served a devolution notice and a notice of inco......
3 books & journal articles

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