Punch boss Hugh Osmond and night time economy force Sacha Lord put the Government on the ropes until the strong arm of the state waded in to turn the ‘data not dates’ mantra on its head. The battle for evidence may have been lost in legalities, but the moral case of the people versus the government was certainly won.
Sacha Lord, Greater Manchester’s night time economy adviser and Punch Taverns boss Hugh Osmond have lost their legal challenge against the Government’s delay to the reopening of indoor hospitality spaces which they said should have taken place alongside nonessential retail.
The High Court’s ruling in favour of the Government’s decision to adopt such an approach provoked an impassioned response from Hugh Osmond who said that the “strong arm of the state has come crushing down on hope and aspiration”, adding that “our democracy should be better than this.” Taking issue with Boris Johnson’s roadmap mantra that policy decisions would be driven by “data, not dates” Osmond had argued that because the data was far better than originally forecast the Government should act accordingly and “get rid of these appalling and severe restrictions once and for all”.
Intrigue was heightened as the judgement came just hours before a SAGE report was published stating that “eating out in any food outlet or restaurant was not associated with increased odds” of becoming infected with coronavirus.
Honourable Mr Justice Julian Knowles dismissed the call for a Judicial Review to bring forward indoor re-openings as ‘academic’ prompting a stinging rebuke from Hugh Osmond who said: “This case is not ‘academic’ for an industry that is losing £200m every day it remains closed, 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.
“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 25 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. The Roadmap was based on models, not data, and today we have the data.
“Vaccination, infection and hospitalisation rates are all far much better than was forecasted and the Government now has a chance to turn this around, to capitalise on the NHS’ brilliant vaccination rollout, to follow the data rather than arbitrary dates based on outdated models, to believe in vaccines and to get rid of these appalling and severe restrictions once and for all.”
Sacha Lord stated: “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.
“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.
“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.”