Ashers Baking Company has enlisted the help of human rights lawyer Professor Christopher McCrudden as it prepares to appeal against an anti-gay discrimination ruling.

Last May, Belfast County Court hit the bakery with a £500 fine for “injury to feelings” after it refused to make a pro-gay marriage cake for would-be customer Gareth Lee due to the owners’ Christian beliefs. At the time, the McArthur family, who own Ashers, said it would appeal against the decision, an appeal which will now be heard on 3 and 4 February.

According to The Belfast News Letter, the appeal will primarily be fought on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and argue that the McArthurs were within their rights not to make the cake as it was against their Christian beliefs.

McCrudden, who is professor of human rights and equality law at Queen’s University Belfast and William W Cook global law professor at the University of Michigan Law School, is a specialist on human rights. He joins the team headed up by David Scoffield QC and funded by the Christian Institute (CI), a body which exists to promote Christianity in the UK.

Simon Calvert, spokesman for the CI, said: “We are delighted to have such a formidable legal expert join an already strong team. Professor McCrudden’s experience and knowledge of human rights and equality law will be of incalculable assistance.

“We’re confident that Ashers’ grounds of appeal are strong. There are a number of areas where the county court simply misapplied discrimination law. Ashers’ lawyers will also show how the court’s approach breached the right of a person not to be compelled to express views to which they have a strong objection.”

Ashers Baking Company runs a chain of shops around Belfast and produces a range of breads, cakes and sausage rolls.