A high court judge ruled on Monday that the government’s earlier ban on attending Mass may have involved an “unjustifiable interference with freedom of religion”.
The ruling was given by Justice Lewis in response to three claimants applying for a judicial review of the UK government’s emergency lockdown restrictions as they were in force on May 21.
The proceedings were funded by 4,000 people who had responded to a crowdfunding campaign by the prominent businessman Simon Dolan, chairman of Jota Aviation. The two other claimants were Lauren Monks, an employee of Dolan, and a school pupil whose identity remains undisclosed.
Their resultant 87-page claim form argued that the government’s lockdown restrictions were illegal and had violated at least seven articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including the rights to liberty, to respect for family life, to freedom of religion, and to education.
The judge, however, ruled that the government had the legal powers to impose such restrictions and that their decisions were, for the most part, neither irrational nor disproportionate given the context of “a global pandemic where a novel, highly infectious disease capable of causing death was spreading and was transmissible between humans.”
But Justice Lewis nevertheless highlighted the “discrete issue” raised by Lauren Monks, who had requested that, as a Roman Catholic, she should be permitted to attend Mass.
The judge said it was “arguable that the restriction on the use of a Roman Catholic church for communal worship and the taking of the sacraments involves an interference with Article 9 (1) of the Convention.”
Article 9 (1) of the European Convention asserts that everyone has the right “to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
Despite noting elsewhere that Monks’ objection “may have become academic” since the July 4 amendments allowed public Masses to resume, Lewis nevertheless permitted the issue of religious freedom violations “to proceed to a full hearing to enable the court to determine in the light of all the evidence, and full legal argument, whether or not the restriction involves a breach of Article 9 of the Convention.”
In support of his ruling, the judge highlighted a decision last month by Justice Swift to offer application for a full judicial review to Tabassum Hussain, chairman of the Barkerend Road Mosque, who had objected to the public worship ban’s restrictions on people attending Friday prayers at the mosque during Ramadan. Justice Lewis explained that he would extend this offer to the present case because it was “similarly arguable that the restriction on communal worship in Roman Catholic churches may involve an unjustifiable interference with freedom of religion”.
Simon Dolan, however, responded critically to the ruling: “The government imposed the most draconian set of rules this country has ever known. Yet today’s decision means that the courts believe it is perfectly fair and reasonable for the government to be able to lock down its entire population and take away livelihoods whenever it chooses – without having to justify its actions.”
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