UK government faces legal challenge to lockdown from businessman | Law

The government is facing a challenge to the legality of the coronavirus lockdown by a wealthy businessman who fears it will kill more people than it saves.

Simon Dolan, whose Jota Aviation company has been delivering personal protective equipment (PPE) to the NHS, has put the health secretary on notice that he intends to issue proceedings for a judicial review, unless the government reverses some of the lockdown measures and reinstates freedom of movement.

He is taking the action, which echoes that taken by Gina Miller over Brexit, on the grounds that the lockdown was both legally defective and disproportionate in law. He is also seeking minutes of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meetings this year, some of which involved Boris Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings.

“Failure to do so [release the minutes] will result in an application for disclosure if proceedings have to be issued,” says the “letter before action” that has been sent to Matt Hancock.

Dolan, the author of a book called How to Make Millions Without a Degree, says he is not taking the case to throw the country into chaos, but to restore the public’s right to decide for themselves if they want to visit friends, go to work or stay indoors, according to a crowdfunding page.

He has offered to “consider not issuing proceedings if serious, alternative, less draconian suggested restrictions were imposed”.

His lawyer, Michael Gardner, said the government had been given until Thursday to reply to the letter. If it does not come back with a satisfactory answer, he will apply for an urgent court hearing in the same way Miller did when she challenged the prorogation of parliament last year.

Dolan runs his chartered airline business out of Southend in Essex and employs about 600 people across 10 companies.

He said he had no political affiliation but mounted the action because he feared the cure for coronavirus would be “worse than the disease”, with cancer referrals and chemotherapy down and as many as 18,000 extra cancer deaths predicted, according to recent research by University College London. Reports of domestic violence have risen, and police reported early signs of an increase in suicides and suicide attempts.

“The lockdown is telling us to stop living to avoid dying,” Dolan said. “To imprison people in their homes is an extremely dramatic decision to make. It is unprecedented and it would have been a brave Boris to say ‘no, we are not going to do that’, but it has gone on too long now, and we need to lift it or loosen it.

“Too many people are losing their jobs; people can’t get cancer treatment, there is suicide, domestic violence. Why are we prevaricating? It’s like the government is now keeping this going to justify their original decision, whereas what they should do is say we did this and now we are doing something different.”

His action comes as pressure to relax lockdowns extends around the globe, with the most extreme examples in the US, where gun-toting protesters entered Michigan’s state building on Thursday.

“It’s not storming the city halls with guns like in America, but British people have done their bit, made their sacrifices but life has to go on and it’s going to be really hard for years to come,” said Dolan. He said the crowdfunding drive was an attempt to test British people’s “backbone” as he was “amazed nobody else was doing something”.

A serial entrepreneur, Dolan, 50, from Essex, is worth £142m, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. He left school at 16 after clashing with teachers and got his first break at 22, putting a £10 advert in a local paper offering to do people’s accounts.

He started his own motor racing team, Jota Sport, in 2008 after his wife bought him a track day as a birthday present, and now lives in Monaco.

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Dolan said the case was funded all the way to the court but he was advised that the crowdfunding would help the budget if it became a prolonged case and would also help to see “ how much support was out there from the general public”. He said: “When people actually start putting their hands in their pockets it’s a far more powerful message.”

Dolan’s lawyer said the challenge rested on three main points: first, that the lockdown is “ultra vires” – outside of legal authority – because it implemented regulations under the Public Health Act 1984 instead of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 or the emergency Coronavirus Act 2020; second, that the government reimposed the lockdown on a “disproportionate” basis in law, using an “over-rigid” test regarding its effect on containing the disease but not its impact on the economy, jobs and wider health; and third, that it breached the European convention on human rights covering the right to liberty, family life, education and property.

The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.

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