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Covid-19, Religious Freedoms and Legal Proceedings

20th August 2020 RIAMS

Two recent cases written by Tim Everett and uploaded to the Legal and Enforcement forum on RIAMS Communities, focus on Covid-19 and legal processes.

The first case, R (on the application of Hussein) v Secretary of State for Health and Social Care [2020] EWHC 1392 (Admin) covers the impact Covid-19 and the subsequent restrictions had on religious freedom. This was the first case heard by the High Court specifically about the legal restrictions to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak.

In this case, the Chairman of a Bradford mosque sought an interim order to prevent the enforcement of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions)(England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/350 against him and his mosque so that members would be able to observe Friday prayers as part of Ramadan. He argued that as a result of these Regulations, their rights to Freedom of Religion under the European Convention of Human Rights as embodied in the Human Rights Act 1998 were infringed. He sought judicial review of the Councils decision not to allow an interim order.

The High Court considered this case carefully due to the human rights implications and it was held that the restrictions in place applied to all religions, so was not discriminatory and due to the public health concerns and limited nature of the restrictions, these were found to be reasonable in the context of the pandemic.

You can read Tim’s summary of the case here.

Stanley v London Borough of Tower Hamlets [2020] EWHC 1622 (QB) is important because it underlines the extent to which the courts will take into account the effect of Covid-19 in dealing with claims. Here, the Council had failed to respond in time to a variety of letters from the claimants’ solicitors in relation to a claim of breaching data protection. While the Council accepted that there had been a data breach and apologised in January 2019. The Claimant also complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and sought damages of £10,000.

Principles established in a range of cases were considered, including the three-part test established in Mitchell and Denton.  The Council accepted that there had been a serious and significant breach of the rules on their part, but argued that in the circumstances, relief from the sanction under the Civil Procedures Rules, regulation 3.9 should be granted. The claimant argued that the council were using Covid-19 as an excuse for failing to respond in time.

This case is very important to officers involved in legal proceedings and gives some insight into how we might expect the courts to respond in similar cases. Read the full summary here.