08:02, July 02 216 0 theguardian.com

2020-07-02 08:02:05
High court hears legal challenge to England's lockdown restrictions

The government’s lockdown that has closed schools, premises and companies while limiting free movement is the “most sweeping and far-reaching” restriction on fundamental rights since the second world war, the high court has been told.

In a challenge to the legality of emergency legislation, the businessman Simon Dolan, whose Jota Aviation company has been delivering personal protective equipment (PPE) to the NHS, is testing the full extent of the powers under which England has been confined for the past 101 days.

The hearing is taking place via video link due to the pandemic crisis, with lawyers participating remotely from their homes or chambers.

The emergency restrictions, announced by the prime minister on 23 March, are illegal, breach human rights laws and fail to take account other significant factors, lawyers for Dolan argue.

Opening the case, Philip Havers QC, for Dolan, said it was aimed at challenging the “most sweeping and far-reaching restrictions on fundamental rights in England since world war two, if not before”.

The powers being used, despite the easing of lockdown, he said, are “still unlawful and disproportionate” while the government has indicated that it may yet re-impose “stringent restrictions”.

The risk of any child without a pre-existing medical condition suffering serious illness is “vanishingly small”, Havers said. “There’s no reason not to send all the children back to school.”

Havers questioned whether the Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984 and the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 had indeed given the government power to close businesses.

In written submissions to the high court, lawyers for Dolan said: “The almost unbelievably complicated and arbitrary [government] guidelines – not adequately reflected in the … regulations – are symptomatic of a government that is seeking to impose a degree of control and micro-management over the lives of its citizens that is wholly incompatible with [human rights law] and that is not proportionate to the harm that the rules are designed to combat.”

A statement submitted by Michael Gardner, a solicitor representing Dolan, declared: “Extraordinarily elaborate and complicated rules have now been imposed on the whole population – irrespective of whether they are in high risk groups or not.”

There had been inadequate parliamentary scrutiny of the regulations and their impact, the court has been told.

The case has been paid for through crowd-funding on the CrowdJustice website, which has already raised more than £200,000.

The case, being heard by Mr Justice Lewis in the high court, is formally a permission hearing, which decides whether the challenge can proceed to a full trial of the issues.

Nonetheless the main arguments on both sides are being explored. The claim has been brought against the secretary of states for health and education who are represented by Sir James Eadie QC, the Treasury Devil who leads for the government in important cases.

The hearing continues.