The COVID-19 coronavirus Lockdown rules are among “the most onerous restrictions to personal liberty” in almost four centuries – and have cost the UK economy £2.5 billion per day – the Court of Appeal has heard.
Lawyers representing businessman Simon Dolan told three senior judges that the regulations – aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus – “imposed far-reaching restrictions on the lives and businesses of the entire population of England”.
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 restrictions.
At a Court of Appeal hearing on Thursday, Philip Havers QC, barrister for Mr Dolan, said lockdown regulations announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in March “introduced restrictions on the freedoms of the people in this country never seen before in times of peace or war”.
In documents before the court, Mr Havers said Mr Dolan’s claim “involves a wholesale challenge to some of the most onerous restrictions to personal liberty” imposed since the time of Oliver Cromwell and the English Protectorate in the mid-1600s, “if not ever”.
He argued the restrictions have “unusually affected every person in England each day, not merely prospectively” and are “estimated to have cost the economy up to £2.5 billion per day”.
“It is of the greatest public interest that the challenge is determined by the courts at the highest level,” Mr Havers added.
At Thursday’s hearing, Mr Havers told Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, sitting with Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Singh, it is not an academic exercise for the court to hear a challenge to the original lockdown rules, which have been amended since they were brought in.
“There is a real prospect that the original lockdown, or something like it, will be reimposed in the near or very near future,” Mr Havers said.
Strict restrictions similar to the national lockdown are being imposed across many areas of England, he said.
Mr Havers added that another national lockdown “would seem to be the inevitable consequence if the most recent measures to try to reduce the infection rate fail to do so”.
He told the judges: “If the court subjects these regulations to judicial scrutiny and if the Government is considering a second lockdown, the Government, together with Parliament and the public, will have available to them what this court, or the High Court, has to say about the proportionality of the original lockdown.”
The Government would have to take this into account when deciding whether to bring in another lockdown, Mr Havers said, and the public would be able to consider the Government’s actions in this context.
Mr Dolan has taken his case to the Court of Appeal after a High Court judge refused permission for a full hearing of his challenge in July.
The businessman, who is pursuing his case with others, is challenging the original lockdown rules and the current restrictions, as well as the decision to close schools for most children.
He argues the restrictions are unlawful because they are outside the Government’s powers under public health legislation and a “disproportionate breach” of human rights laws.
Mr Dolan’s claim is being opposed by the Government.
In written submissions, Sir James Eadie QC, barrister for the Government, said Mr Dolan’s challenge was “a root-and-branch attack on the measures (that is, all of the measures over time) at the heart of the legislative steps taken in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic to protect the public and to seek to save lives by ensuring social distancing”.
He said the Government has been “acutely aware of the impacts of the regulations and the restrictions they contain, on day-to-day life”.
“It has kept those restrictions under continual review, including at the regular formal review stage,” Sir James said.
He argued that Mr Dolan’s case should be dismissed, saying it is “unarguable”.
The hearing is due to last two days, and the judges are expected to give their ruling at a later date.