A top human rights lawyer has been drafted in to represent a Northern Ireland bakery – whose owners refused to make a ‘gay’ cake.

The owners of Ashers Bakery in Belfast were found guilty of unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation and political or religious grounds, after the company in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland refused to bake a cake showing the message ‘Support Gay Marriage’ above an image of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie.

Despite losing its initial case, Ashers Bakery is pursuing a legal appeal of the ruling – with help from the Christian Institute, which often works to oppose legal LGBT rights protections.

However, one of the country’s top human rights lawyers has been drafted in to defend the bakery.

Professor Christopher McCrudden, of Queen’s University Belfast, previously served as Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford.

Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute 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 look forward to the hearing and remain confident that the McArthur family have a good case which deserves to win.”

The McArthur family said previously: “After much careful and prayerful consideration given to legal advice, we have decided to appeal the judgment.

“We continue to insist that we have done nothing wrong as we have discriminated against no individual but rather acted according to what the Bible teaches regarding marriage.

“As many other people have already noted, Christian beliefs seem to have been trampled over in this judgment and we believe this only has negative effects for our society.

“Our hope and prayer would be that an appeal will allow us and other Christians to live out their faith in Jesus Christ in every part of their lives, including their workplace.”

Professor McCrudden previously advised the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales in its objections to same-sex marriage legislation.

Appearing before Parliament in 2013, he argued that the legislation does not do enough to guarantee religious freedom.