Christopher HopeSat, 3 April 2021, 5:05 pm
Matt Hancock has been ordered to the High Court on Tuesday to justify why he is allowing non-essential shops to open before pubs and restaurants.
The legal action has been brought by nightclubs operator Sacha Lord and former Pizza Express boss Hugh Osmond to try to force the early opening of hospitality venues.
According to High Court documents seen by The Telegraph, the pair are challenging “the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 to the extent that those Regulations provide for non-essential retail businesses to reopen before indoor hospitality businesses”.
The order from Mr Justice Swift says that “the Secretary of State shall by 10am on Tuesday April 6 2021 file and serve his response to the application” from the pair.
Although Mr Hancock has been summoned to the High Court, it is likely that officials in his department will have to attend court on his behalf.
Writing for The Telegraph website, Mr Osmond said it “makes no sense to open indoor ‘non-essential’ retailers five weeks before indoor hospitality”.
Non-essential retailers such as clothes shops, homeware stores, betting shops, auction houses, technology shops, car showrooms and market stalls can open from April 12. Indoor hospitality businesses have to wait until May 17.
Mr Osmond said the case offered “some hope this weekend for those of us who cherish British freedom and who crave a return to rational and democratic governing”.
He added: “In a democracy, evidence and rationality should still matter, and so too should transparency, challenge and accountability.
“Government has been given an easy ride in Parliament with the official Opposition being nowhere to be seen.
“This has led to arbitrariness, randomness and a complete lack of logic in the rules, and we’re starting to see it being accompanied by something even more sinister: an arrogance, and a sense that ministers are above scrutiny.
“The Government left us no choice but to take it to court and regardless of the eventual outcome of the case, I am grateful to Mr Justice Swift (whose name seems so apt) for recognising that this is a truly urgent matter affecting the lives of millions of people, that simply cannot wait.”
A Government spokesperson said it could not comment on legal proceedings.
She added: “As the Prime Minister has said, we want this lockdown to be the last. Our roadmap sets out a phased approach to cautiously easing restrictions, informed by scientific experts, and we continue to act in response to the latest available evidence to protect the NHS and save lives.
“We have continued to support the hospitality sector throughout the pandemic, including our new £5 billion Restart Grant scheme, extending the furlough scheme and the VAT cut, and providing 750,000 businesses in hospitality and other sectors with business rates relief.”
Listen to Hugh Osmond on his High Court challenge on The Telegraph’s Planet Normal podcast hosted by columnists Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan using the audio player above