Government threatened with legal challenge over ‘discriminatory’ Covid passes

Group says certification will ‘make society less free, less equal and less accessible for people’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Friday 24 December 2021 01:00
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A civil liberties campaign group has threatened the government with a legal challenge over the introduction of “discriminatory” Covid passes for large venues in England.

It comes a week after Boris Johnson suffered the biggest rebellion of his premiership from nearly 100 Tory MPs over the certification — one of the key tenants of the government’s “plan B” strategy for dealing with the pandemic this winter.

Despite the revolt, the scheme was introduced in England on 16 December, after it was passed with a majority of 243, with Labour backing the move.

However, piling pressure on the prime minister to drop Covid passes, Big Brother Watch, which works to “roll back the surveillance state”, said that if Mr Johnson does not scrap the Covid passes “we will seek to make our case in court”.

The group described the certification scheme, which requires members of the public to show either proof of a Covid-19 vaccination or a negative lateral flow test, as “draconian, discriminatory and pointless”.

Under the the scheme, all visitors over the age of 18 entering venues such as nightclubs, dance halls and indoor events with 500 or more unseated attendees, have been required to show a Covid pass since last Wednesday.

But expressing concern the documentation requirement breaches the Human Rights Act and equality laws, the civil liberties group claimed that the certification will “make society less free, less equal and less accessible for people”.

Director Silkie Carlo added: “We face serious and evolving public health challenges. But Covid passes have been proven to fail in Scotland and Wales and will do nothing to protect people in England. This is safety theatre that carries real risk of harm, intrusion and division.

“There are far more effective measures to keep people safe than excluding healthy people without the right papers from society”.

“We urge the prime minister and health secretary to scrap mandatory Covid passes. If they don’t, we will seek to make our case in court.”

In a pre-action letter, the group, which launched similar action against the Welsh government last month, claimed there was “no, or no sufficient evidence” for the introduction of Covid passes and suggested that equality considerations “do not appear to have been taken into account”.

Big Brother Watch added that it will issue judicial review proceedings if it does not receive a “satisfactory” response from ministers by 6 January 2022.

Speaking earlier this month, Mr Johnson said he understood the “legitimate anxieties colleagues have about restrictions on the liberty of people” when challenged by the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on the divisions within his party.

However, the prime minister sought to defend the scheme, insisting the government’s approach in the face of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant was “balanced and proportionate and right”.

The Independent has contacted the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.

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