We’ve been on lockdown for over 100 days now, but as restrictions ease and we adjust to a new normal, it’s hard not to reflect on how different life has been these past few months.
Many believe that the restrictions have been “unlawful and disproportionate” and has cost the economy billions of pounds each day, but people have not only suffered financially.
Children have lost hours of school education, businesses have collapsed beyond repair, there’s been an increase in domestic violence, and people’s mental health has also been affected, and much, much more.
One of the people challenging the restrictions – including the closure of schools – is businessman Simon Dolan, who has so far raised more than £200,000 from some 6,400 pledges through crowdfunding.
Mr Dolan, who according to the Sunday Times Rich List is worth £200 million, is pursuing a claim against Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson over the regulations.
At a remote hearing on Thursday 2 July, Mr Dolan, who is pursuing his legal action with others, asked Mr Justice Lewis to grant permission for a full hearing of the challenge. The Government is opposing the claim and argues Mr Dolan’s case is not open to legal challenge.
Mr Dolan’s barrister, Philip Havers QC, told Thursday’s hearing: “The claimants are seeking permission to challenge the most sweeping and far-reaching invasion of fundamental rights in England since World War Two, if not before, imposed in March, in response to the outbreak of coronavirus.”
He said that while it is true “to some extent” that lockdown has been eased since March, and measures are likely to be further reduced in July, “significant” restrictions remain.
Mr Havers argued that the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 are “still unlawful and disproportionate” and “still far from being the least restrictive steps available to the Government”.
In court papers, he said it is argued that it was “irrational and disproportionate to impose a ‘lockdown’ on the entire country for a virus that was known to pose little risk of mortality or serious illness to the healthy working population, while posing much greater risks to those with pre-existing health conditions and, particularly, those over 70 years old”.
The Government has argued in court papers that lockdown measures were taken to protect the public and save lives, and that the situation has changed since Mr Dolan’s claim was first issued.
Sir James Eadie QC, for the Government, told the court: “The claim is not, in any of its parts, arguable”, adding: “The hurdle that has to be overcome… is and remains a very high hurdle indeed, whatever legal platform they seek to rely on.”
He said: “In the early days of lockdown there were unprecedented and extremely serious risks to public health, and to life, when the pandemic was at its height and the fear was that the NHS would be overwhelmed.”
“Extraordinary efforts” were made across Government and the NHS to avoid this situation, Sir James said. “Steps taken in the early days and the severity of the restrictions imposed were precisely based on the seriousness of that degree of risk.”
The case has been paid for through crowd-funding on the CrowdJustice website, which has already raised more than £200,000. Thursday’s hearing was a permission hearing, which decides whether the challenge can proceed to a full trial of the issues.
Mr Justice Lewis said he would reserve judgment until next week.