United Kingdom

Court showdown looms in bosses' battle to reopen nightlife venues

Hospitality bosses Hugh Osmond and Sacha Lord have stepped up their fight to overturn lockdown restrictions for pubs ahead of a High Court showdown this week.

Osmond, a former director of Pizza Express, and Lord, the nighttime economy adviser for Greater Manchester, launched a legal battle earlier this month to force the Government to speed up the reopening of indoor hospitality venues.

Their claim against Health Secretary Matt Hancock will reach a crunch point in the coming days, when a judge will rule whether their judicial review will proceed to a full trial.

Hospitality bosses Hugh Osmond and Sacha Lord launched a legal battle earlier this month to force the Government to speed up the reopening of indoor hospitality venues

Osmond and Lord say hospitality venues are safer than non-essential high street shops, which reopened last Monday, and that the Government has failed to provide scientific evidence for the extra five weeks of lockdown that is putting businesses and jobs at risk.

If they win, a judge could overrule the Prime Minister's roadmap that said pubs and restaurants cannot use their indoor spaces until at least May 17.

Lord, who also runs nightclubs and the Parklife festival, called the lawsuit a 'David and Goliath battle', as his legal team prepared to face the Government's top lawyer, First Treasury Counsel Sir James Eadie QC. 

Lord has already overturned the Government's 10pm curfew and the substantial meal – or 'Scotch Egg' – rules through a judicial review earlier this year. 

He said he is confident his legal battles will stop the Government 'throwing hospitality under a bus' in future by imposing rules that are not based on 'hard evidence'.

Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, Lord said that every day hospitality firms can trade fully before May 17 would be 'an absolute win' because the industry is still losing £200million a day. 

He added: 'Even if we open a week beforehand, that's £1.4billion of sales recovered. How many jobs and livelihoods would that save? That's why we're doing this.'

Hospitality bosses Hugh Osmond and Sacha Lord say hospitality venues are safer than non-essential high street shops

He said people's mental health is 'at a tipping point', and that safe in-door mixing should be allowed now that 32million people have been vaccinated.

Lord added: 'People are at the end of their tether. I know freelancers in the industry who have lost their livelihoods, their relationships, or their houses, and I know two people who have taken their own lives. There's a balancing act here now. I think it's far safer for people to enjoy themselves in a regulated environment with safety measures in place than free-for-all mixing in parks or private homes.'

In a fresh blow for the Government, Osmond last night said he is considering launching further legal action. 'If we can prove that certain lockdown measures were not justified by scientific data, I will look into whether there is a legal case for compensation for those hospitality businesses needlessly affected.'

Osmond added: 'There has always been an assumption that hospitality has spread Covid. What we want to show most of all is that having put into place strict safety measures and having looked at the data, there is no evidence that justifies closing 150,000 hospitality venues.'

Lord said: 'If you use the Government's terminology – data not dates – we should be opening before May 17.'

The Government submitted its defence last Friday. A spokesman said it had backed the hospitality sector through the pandemic, with support such as the £5billion Restart Grant, adding that its approach 'is informed by the best available science and latest clinical evidence'.

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