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The future of contractual freedom

What could the decision that a bakery was discriminatory in refusing to produce a cake with a gay slogan mean for the law of contract, asks Adrian Mason

2 June 2015

The decision in the Belfast County Court ‘gay cake’ case has raised interesting points. The fundamental axiom in contract is parties can freely enter into legally binding arrangements, a doctrine eroded over the years by statutory provisions.

The court found the defendants had been discriminatory in refusing to produce a cake with a gay slogan. It heard arguments from the parties and found in favour of the claimant (or ‘plaintiff’ in Northern Ireland). Commentators suggest this judgment will force businesses to enter into contracts with anyone, without the right of refusal, lest it be viewed as discriminatory.

In the fallout, one important factor has been forgotten: the doctrine of contractual freedom. The claimant entered into a contract with the defendants, who later changed their minds because of their religious beliefs. Under contractual obligations, the defendan...

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