02:06, November 27 57 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-27 02:06:04
UK supreme court to sit in Northern Ireland for the first time

The supreme court will sit in Northern Ireland for the first time next year to hear evidence on the contentious gay marriage case involving a themed cake which evangelical Christians refused to bake.

It will be only the second time that the UK’s highest court has sat outside its headquarters in Westminster. Earlier this year, justices held a session in Edinburgh.

At the end of April, five justices – the supreme court president Lady Hale, deputy president Lord Mance, Lord Kerr, Lord Hodge and Lady Black – will sit in the Inns of Court Library at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast.

Kerr is a former lord chief justice of Northern Ireland. Hale said: “My colleagues and I strongly believe that the experience of watching a case in person should not be limited to those within easy reach of London. This is the second time that the court has sat outside London.

“The supreme court is committed to being one of the most open and accessible in the world and, like all our hearings, our Belfast cases will be livestreamed via our website for everyone who cannot get to see us in person.”

One of the cases being heard in Belfast will be Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd. The justices will hear arguments about whether a bakery directly discriminated against a customer on the grounds of sexual orientation when the bakery said it could not fulfil an order for a cake with “Support gay marriage” written on it because of its owners’ religious beliefs. The court will also hear a case on whether a policy on allowances for widowed parents breaches human rights laws.

In a separate development, the Law Society has issued a report urging the government to restore access to early legal advice on the grounds that cuts to legal aid have proved to be a false economy.

The study follows a similar recommendation by the Labour-backed Bach Commission. The Ministry of Justice has begun formally reviewing the impact of deep cuts imposed by the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (Laspo) Act.

Research conducted by Ipsos Mori for the Law Society shows a clear statistical link between obtaining early legal advice and resolving problems sooner, the latest report concludes.

“Without early advice, relatively minor legal problems can escalate, creating health, social and financial problems, placing additional pressure and cost on already stretched public services,” said Christina Blacklaws, the society’s vice-president.

“Anyone who can’t afford to pay for early legal advice may struggle to identify solutions – meaning simple issues spiral and can end up in court, bringing unnecessary costs to the taxpayer.”

The study found that, on average, one in four people who receive early professional legal advice resolved their problem within three to four months. However, after nine months, only one in four of those who did not receive early legal advice had resolved their issue.

“The benefits of early advice are clear. We are calling on the government to ensure justice is accessible to those who need it,” said Blacklaws.