On Thursday 21 May 2020, Swift J heard and rejected an application for urgent interim relief brought on behalf of a mosque in Bradford seeking judicial authorisation to re-open for Friday prayers (subject to undertakings in relation to social distancing measures) in R (Hussain) v Secretary of State for Health and Social Care  EWHC 1392 (Admin).
By regulation 5(5) of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 all places of worship in England are presently closed, save for funerals, certain acts of assistance to the vulnerable and to allow access to worship leaders to broadcast religious services. Mr Hussain, chair of the Executive Committee of the mosque, argued that he believed that one of the Friday prayers – the Jummah – was obligatory in Islam and that it was a disproportionate interference with his Article 9 ECHR right to manifest his religious belief for the Regulations to prevent him from participating in communal prayer at the mosque on Fridays. He issued his claim on Tuesday 19 May, seeking urgent interim relief to allow the mosque to reopen on Friday 22 May, the last Friday of Ramadan.
Swift J refused interim relief, noting that there was guidance from representative Muslim organisations which did not consider the Jummah obligatory in the present circumstances, that the Government’s published strategy sought to re-open places of worship in July, and that a taskforce had been established comprising of all major faiths to assist the Government in doing so. He specifically held that at trial the Secretary of State was likely to succeed, as the interference with Article 9 was justified in the truly exceptional circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic. Swift J recognised the importance of the protection of public health, the purpose of the restrictions to reduce mixing and transmission of the virus particularly in indoor spaces and that the Government must be afforded a suitable margin in the circumstances.
The judgment can be read here.
Christopher Knight acted for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, led by Sir James Eadie QC and Zoe Leventhal.