The High Court has ruled in favour of the government in a legal challenge over its decision to delay the reopening of indoor hospitality until 17th May.
The judgement comes after Greater Manchester’s Night Time Economy Adviser, Sacha Lord – who is also the co-founder of Parklife Festival and Warehouse Project – and Punch Taverns founder Hugh Osmond, notably joined forces last month to take the government to court over hospitality restrictions as they argued that bars, restaurants and cafes should be allowed to provide indoor service on the same date as non-essential retail reopens.
Under the government’s roadmap for lifting England’s current national lockdown, the hospitality sector has resumed outdoor service from 12th April – but businesses must wait until 17th May to welcome customers indoors.
It’s estimated that the delay in reopening indoor hospitality could end up costing the sector £7 billion over the five weeks.
The case to permit the reopening of indoor hospitality was expedited at the start of last month, and a response was initially supposed to be provided on the week commencing Monday 19th April – but was delayed.
Following the delays, Mr Lord – who has continuously claimed over the last couple of months that the government has been unable to provide evidence for their reasoning behind the roadmap, and has insisted he will share the documents once received – took to social media last week to confirm that the case was with a High Court Judge and he was “expecting news imminently”.
He stressed that “every day counts” and that it’s about “data NOT dates”.
And after nearly a week of awaiting response, the High Court ruled in favour of the government in the case R (On the Application of Sacha Lord and Hugh Osmond) v Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, saying that COVID-19 justifies a cautious approach.
The judgement came just hours before a SAGE report emerged that stated that “eating out in any food outlet or restaurant was not associated with increased odds” of becoming infected with coronavirus (COVID-19), and while it’s said that the report was not disclosed by the defence during the legal proceedings, in the overview, the Honourable Mr Justice Julian Knowles dismissed the call for Judicial Review to bring forward indoor reopenings as “academic”.
“This case is not ‘academic’ for an industry that is losing £200m every day it remains closed,” Hugh Osmand commented.
“For the over three million people who work in our industry, or for the tens of thousands of businesses, suppliers, landlords and contractors forced into bankruptcy by government measures, our legal action gave them a fighting chance,
“Yet once again in 2021, the strong arm of the state has come crushing down on hope and aspiration.
“The judge said that Covid ‘justifies a precautionary or cautious approach on the part of the government’, but when a crucial SAGE report is ignored, this goes far beyond caution, and questions need to be asked about when this advice was sought and why this important evidence was not disclosed.
“I am deeply concerned that the judge’s main reason for refusing judicial review was because our claim ‘was not brought promptly’, even though we issued our claim days after the roadmap became law on 25th March, with the court taking a month to provide its ruling.
“This judgment drives a coach and horses through our normal constitutional processes.
“Are we really being told that we should have issued legal proceedings on the basis of a Prime Minister’s press conference and a yet to be published set of laws?
“Our democracy should be better than this”.
Commenting on the decision, Sacha Lord said in a statement: “We are disappointed with the outcome.
“While this fight has always been an uphill battle, made harder by the government’s delaying tactics and refusal to mediate, we are pleased that the case has shone a light on the hospitality sector and the unfair and unequal guidance within the recovery roadmap [as] through our legal challenges, we have achieved significant outcomes for the sector, abolishing the substantial meal requirement with our previous court action and lobbying hard to remove with the 10pm curfew.
“Both of these results have had a hugely positive impact on operators nationwide who have been unfairly treated throughout this crisis and undoubtedly saved many jobs throughout the industry.
“Through our legal action, we have sent a clear, strong message direct to the heart of government [and] we will continue to advocate for those who have been unfairly impacted throughout this crisis, and despite the outcome, we will continue to hold the government to account and demand evidence-based decisions, rather than those drafted without detailed analysis or based on bias or whim”.
He continued: “The hospitality sector has gone above and beyond to implement measures which provide safe, secure environments – measures which were, let’s not forget, advised as safe by the government themselves and which the court already deemed to be effective based on the evidence we provided in support of our previous judicial review.
“There are thousands of bars, pubs and restaurants across the country which are still closed and whose owners and employees are struggling financially due to these unfair restrictions.
“For the 40% minority who do have outdoor space, this weekend’s weather has only exacerbated the ongoing struggles the industry has continually faced, and I’ve heard of countless pubs that have been forced to close early or who have had zero customers due to the bad weather.
“Not only does this severely impact on business and sector recovery, but on the staff whose wages, and ability to pay rent, food and bills, are at the mercy of something as unpredictable as the weather”.
Featured Image – Weird & Wonderful