Monday 11 December 2017

Model and footballer's humanist wedding can go ahead - Court of Appeal rules

Model Laura Lacole and footballer Eunan O'Kane outside the High Court in Belfast
Model Laura Lacole and footballer Eunan O'Kane outside the High Court in Belfast
Model Laura Lacole and footballer Eunan O'Kane
Model Laura Lacole and footballer Eunan O'Kane outside the High Court in Belfast

Alan Erwin

A glamour model and international footballer can go ahead with their humanist marriage later this week, the Court of Appeal directed on Monday.

Senior judges gave interim authority for Laura Lacole and Eunan O'Kane to have a legally recognised wedding conducted by a celebrant of their choice.

But they have still to decide on a bid to overturn a ruling that the celebrity couple faced discrimination based on their belief.

Appeals being mounted by Attorney General John Larkin QC and a Stormont Department were adjourned until September.

It means the British Humanist Association's head of ceremonies can solemnise the Belfast woman's marriage to the Republic of Ireland midfielder at a location in Co Antrim on Thursday.

Outside court Ms Lacole's solicitor, Ciaran Moynagh, said: "This is a good result for Laura and Eunan, and a first for Northern Ireland."

Model Laura Lacole and footballer Eunan O'Kane
Model Laura Lacole and footballer Eunan O'Kane

Under current law, a couple seeking such a wedding must also have a separate civil registration for it to be officially acknowledged.

The same situation applies in England and Wales, but not in Scotland or the Republic of Ireland.

Model Laura Lacole and footballer Eunan O'Kane outside the High Court in Belfast
Model Laura Lacole and footballer Eunan O'Kane outside the High Court in Belfast

Earlier this month Ms Lacole won a landmark High Court challenge against the refusal to grant the ceremony official status.

A judge held the marriage was a manifestation of Ms Lacole's beliefs, and that she was denied equal treatment to that given to religious couples.

Laura Lacole is due to wed footballer Eunan O'Kane in Northern Ireland
Laura Lacole is due to wed footballer Eunan O'Kane in Northern Ireland

He ordered the granting of temporary authorisation for a BHA celebrant to perform a legally valid and binding wedding.

But just days before the event, the Attorney General urged a panel of three appeal judges to reverse the verdict.

He backed submissions on behalf of the Department of Finance that the case was too significant to rush.

"It's a hugely important issue which has all kinds of ramifications," Mr Larkin submitted.

He argued that no breach of the European Convention on Human Rights had occurred in a case where the 2003 Marriage Order includes provisions for the solemnisation of civil marriage.

According to Mr Larkin, this should satisfy all the celebrity couple hope for in their ceremony.

"This case is evidentially undercooked in indicating the gap between what is potentially on offer and what they are trying to get," he said.

Ms Lacole, who is also vice-chair of Atheist NI, claims she is being discriminated against under the European Convention on Human Rights.

She issued judicial review proceedings against the General Register Office (GRO) for not authorising the marriage.

Her action was also directed at Stormont's alleged failure to introduce legislation to allow a legally binding wedding event.

Tony McGleenan QC, for the Department, contended that any interference with Ms Lacole's rights was minimal and justified.

He added that the legislature should be given a chance to explore the complexities involved.

"This is not an area where our Assembly has yet been asked to express a view, there isn't even a policy," Mr McGleenan pointed out.

Adjourning the appeal until after the summer recess, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan directed the local registration authority to appoint British Humanist Association celebrant Isobel Russo to solemnise the wedding on a without prejudice basis.

Mr Moynagh added: "Importantly for all other humanist couples, the case will return to the Court of Appeal in September for further hearing on the original discrimination and human rights arguments."

Belfast Telegraph

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