A legal challenge by hospitality leaders to let pubs and restaurants fully reopen sooner than the roadmap allows will be expedited, a High Court judge has agreed.
The government now has until 16 April to file evidence of why indoor hospitality should only open from 17 May, at the earliest.
Permission for the case to go to a judicial review – that could also be expedited – will then be made in the week starting 19 April, High Court judge Mrs Justice Eady said.
The judge said: “I accept that there is a need to expedite consideration of this matter if the challenge is not to be rendered academic by passage of time.”
Sacha Lord, creator of Parklife festival and Greater Manchester’s night-time economy adviser, and Hugh Osmond, founder of the UK’s largest pub chain Punch Taverns and a former Pizza Express director, brought the challenge.
The pair initially hoped to see indoor hospitality open at the same time as outdoor but are now fighting to have them reopened as soon as possible.
They claim the decision to not reopen indoor hospitality in Step Two of the roadmap out of lockdown shows “discrimination and unsubstantiated beliefs, rather than facts, science and evidence”.
Mr Lord said: “The government has continuously failed to introduce any new evidence as to why indoor hospitality cannot open on 12 April alongside non-essential retail, or any justification for their prioritisation of retail over hospitality.”
The pair said around 60% of hospitality venues do not have outdoor space so cannot open on 12 April, when outdoor hospitality can open, and that many “will cease trading as a result”.
“These same operators have spent millions of pounds creating COVID secure environments and we firmly believe these regulated venues have much safer measures in place than most retail stores,” Mr Lord added.
A government spokesman said: “We have been clear that we want this lockdown to be the last and to achieve that our approach to cautiously easing restrictions is informed by the best available science and the latest clinical evidence.
“The government has supported the hospitality sector throughout this global 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.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock had until 10am today to respond to the challenge and argued there was “no proper basis for expedition” and the challenge was not issued until 1 April, a week after parliament voted the roadmap into law and after it was published on 22 February.
Mr Lord and Mr Osmond first sent their official objections on 10 March then issued court proceedings on 1 April, with Mr Hancock saying the “delay more than usually prejudices” him.
He also complained that his opportunity to reply was during the Easter holidays.
In an earlier legal challenge, Mr Lord forced the government in March to drop its “substantial meal” rule that meant alcohol could only be served alongside food.
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