The UK Supreme Court will sit in Belfast for the first time in April next year.
The court will sit in the Inns of Court Library at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast, where Supreme Court President Lady Hale will be joined by Deputy President Lord Mance, Lord Kerr (former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland), Lord Hodge and Lady Black for up to four days of hearings, commencing on Monday 30 April 2018.
Announcing the visit today, Lady Hale said: “I am delighted that the Supreme Court will be sitting in Belfast in 2018. As the final court of appeal for the United Kingdom, we hear cases of profound importance to everyone in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“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 and doing so is becoming an established feature of the Court’s calendar.
“Whilst in Belfast we shall hear two significant appeals from the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland. This will be a fantastic opportunity for local people to see the court in action on their doorstep.
“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 live streamed via our website for everyone who cannot get to see us in person.”
The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Declan Morgan, said: “I am very much looking forward to welcoming the Supreme Court to Belfast in April. I regard it as extremely significant that the Court is now sitting outside London and I am pleased that Belfast has been chosen as one of the earliest locations to feature in the court’s calendar.
“I believe it is important for people in this jurisdiction to have the opportunity to see the work of the court at first hand, which can only help to enhance public confidence in the administration of justice.”
One of the cases being heard in Belfast will be Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd, in which the justices will consider arguments on whether a bakery directly discriminated against a customer on the grounds of sexual orientation when the proprietors said they could not fulfil an order for a cake with “Support Gay Marriage” written on it because of their religious beliefs.
The court will also hear a case on whether a policy on allowances for widowed parents breaches human rights laws.
The Inns of Court Library can provide seating for around 100 members of the public.
Liam McCollum QC, chairman of the Bar of Northern Ireland said: “It is a privilege to welcome the Supreme Court to Belfast next year and I am delighted as Chairman of the Bar of Northern Ireland that the Inn of Court and the associated facilities of the Bar Library have been selected for this honour. I am confident that hosting the Justices of the Supreme Court will invigorate the public to learn more about their local justice system as history is made with the Court leaving its London home to visit Belfast for the very first time.”
Ian Huddleston, president of the Law Society of Northern Ireland commented: “As president of the Law Society in Northern Ireland I speak for solicitors in Northern Ireland and I am delighted that the Supreme Court is coming to sit in Belfast in April 2018.”