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Coronavirus: Hair and beauty businesses lose High Court case

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image captionHairdressers and beauty salons have had to close in response to a rise in Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland

A case brought by hair and beauty businesses that had to close as part of Stormont's attempts to curb the spread of Covid-19 has been dismissed.

It was heard at the High Court in Belfast on Thursday.

Traders claimed it was an arbitrary and disproportionate step taken with no proper explanation and put jobs at risk and indirectly discriminated against women working in the sector.

But Mr Justice McAlinden ruled that they had no chance of succeeding.

He said the challenge was made amid unprecedented efforts to fight a "recalcitrant" virus.

Mr Justice McAlinden told the court: "Under no circumstances could it be said that the actions of the executive in promoting this wide-ranging, overarching response, with a view to achieving the absolutely necessary aim of combating this infection, could be described as being manifestly without reasonable foundation or justification."

  • NI hair and beauty workers question shutdown

Emergency judicial review proceedings were brought after Department of Health regulations imposed a 28-day closure of salons from October 16.

Barber and tanning shop owner Jason Shankey, Roamer Health and Holistic Clinic and DKY Hair Company brought the case on behalf of the wider "close contact" industry in Northern Ireland.

Their barrister argued that the executive decided on the shutdown without sufficient reasons.

She compared the estimated 0.05 cut in the virus's reproduction rate (R number) through the restrictions imposed on the sector with a potential 0.1 reduction from closing churches and community centres, which have been allowed to remain open.

image captionThe case was heard at the High Court in Belfast

"Difficult decisions have to be made by the executive, but that doesn't mean they are immune from scrutiny," the barrister insisted.

At one point Mr Justice McAlinden suggested the public's health and wellbeing could have been a factor in closing those businesses rather than places of worship.

"Might the reason be the ability to exercise their deeply held religious beliefs in a time of crisis (was regarded) as more important and more significant than the need to get their hair done?," he asked.

image copyrightPA Media

The businesses' barrister insisted that it was the role of the judiciary to scrutinise the process.

"We are not talking about Covid deniers, we are not talking about people complaining about wearing masks on public transport," she said.

"We are talking about people whose businesses have been closed and could be in serious trouble as a result."

She submitted that the reasons why hair and beauty salons were chosen has not been properly disclosed.

"There are serious, debilitating and existential threats to the applicant's businesses and the livelihoods of people who work for them," she added.

"When those are the risks they are entitled to demand that the court performs the role it is established to perform, which is to provide a check, if needed, on the use of executive power."

However, Mr Justice McAlinden rejected claims that refusing to grant leave to seek a judicial review would be an abdication of responsibility to hold government to account.

Pointing to the separation of executive and judicial powers, he also emphasised the efforts being made by the multi-party Stormont administration in response to the crisis.

"There may well be some arguments in relation to the choice of measures made and taken by the executive in this particular instance," he acknowledged.

"But on a global appreciation appreciation of the issues at stake, not only for these individuals but for society at large, and in particular vulnerable members of our society whose Article 2 rights (to life) are crucially engaged in this pandemic, the court concludes that the application for leave fails on the basis that there are no reasonable prospects of success."

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