The McArthur family — owners of Ashers bakery in Northern Ireland — have made a humble, wise and selfless decision in not seeking to recover costs of their legal defence from their opponents.
No doubt there will be those who wanted to give a bloody nose to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, to make them pay for hounding the McArthurs through the courts. Perhaps a hefty legal bill would have made the Commission think twice before doing something like this again.
But throughout the lengthy legal struggle the McArthurs have acted with grace and dignity. They have never expressed any hatred or hostility towards those who pursued them so mercilessly through the courts. It is fitting therefore, that the McArthurs are not seeking their pound of flesh now.
It’s also a wise decision. In consultation with their lawyers and their backers at The Christian Institute, they realised they could set an unhelpful precedent if they sought to recover costs at this stage.
There will be other religious liberty cases that need defending in the future, and not all of them will end successfully as the Ashers’ case has. The prospect of facing a punishing cost order if a case is lost could stop vital cases being pursued.
It is also an honourable decision. At an earlier hearing, when the Ashers initially lost their case, their lawyers argued that each side should pay their own costs because the case raised important matters of public interest. Well you can’t argue that when you lose and argue something different when you win.
Of course, each case must be decided on its own merits. And there will be times when seeking to recover costs from your opponents will be the right thing to do. For instance, where the other side has been especially egregious in its actions.
But not on this occasion. So well done to the McArthurs and their team of supporters. They’ve made a humble, wise and selfless decision which speaks volumes about their character and their desire to protect religious liberty beyond this particular case. And it makes the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland look even worse.