Aviation tycoon, 51, and wedding venue firm launch High Court bid to block Covid laws capping the number of guests at ceremonies and receptions which they claim are ‘devastating’ hospitality industry

  • Businessman Simon Dolan, 51, and Cripps Barn Group, launch joint legal action
  • They are challenging against the government’s rule of six and capping of guests
  • They say rules are unlawful because they were put in via emergency measures
  • The challenge is separate to Mr Dolan’s other legal battle, which was throw out

An aviation tycoon has joined forces with an wedding venue firm in a bid to fight the government’s Covid restrictions on ceremonies and receptions – which they claim are ‘devastating’ the hospitality industry.

Businessman Simon Dolan, 51, and Cripps Barn Group have launched a joint legal challenge against the rules, which they claim are illegal and unreasonable.

In a High Court battle, which began today, they argue the rules of six, capping wedding guests at 15 and forcing venues to close at 10pm were unlawfully issued.

They claim the government violated its usual procedure by pushing through the laws through emergency procedures which do not require a vote in the House of Commons. 

The case is a fresh legal challenge by Dolan, who owns London-based charter airline Jota Aviation and according to the Sunday Times Rich List is worth £200million.

The tycoon’s first High Court appeal to overturn the government’s ‘sweeping’ lockdown measures was thrown out by a judge.

Businessman Simon Dolan, 51, and Cripps Barn Group have launched a joint legal challenge against the rules, which they claim are illegal and unreasonable

In a High Court battle, which began today, they argue the rules of six, capping wedding guests (picture: a social distanced wedding in Liverpool) at 15 and forcing venues to close at 10pm were unlawfully issued

That case, which was launched after a crowdfunding page started by the multimillionaire raised £200,000, is currently under appeal.

In the new case, Mr Dolan and Cripps Barn Group, a firm which owns a string of wedding venues, are trying to block the government enforcing its raft of new lockdown measures.

Francis Hoar, representing the claimants, told the High Court this morning that their claim was that implementing the restrictions through emergency procedures, avoiding a vote in the House of Commons, meant the legislation was ‘challenge-able’.  

He told the court: ‘The current claim for judicial review is about legislation which no longer applies.

‘The claimant’s position is this, the new regulations, were made under the emergency procedure.

‘The Secretary of State’s position is he says he will put the full House of Commons for a vote.

‘They were being put forward through the emergency procedure which did not require a vote.

‘It is the claimant’s position that the use of the emergency procedure is challengeable.’

He continued:  ‘Given the very swiftly changing circumstances it has been necessary to react quickly to the changing factual parameters.

‘The two tests for the appropriateness of a ministerial declaration that the emergency producer is required are one, the urgency and two, the urgency is such for the emergency procedure to be used.

‘It’s the claimant’s submission that both tests fail.

‘Alternatively one of those tests fails and consequently that declaration was not a declaration the minister could reasonably have made.’ 

He added:  ‘The rule of six, booking regulations requiring restaurants, bars and cafes to monitor and enforce that, the curfew at 10 o clock and so on, all of those have been transposed to the medium level.

In the new High Court (pictured) case, Mr Dolan and Cripps Barn Group, a firm which owns a string of wedding venues, are trying to block the government enforcing its raft of new lockdown measures

‘It’s a significant step for the government because it normalises circumstances in which high levels of restriction can be imposed on different areas of the country.

‘Areas can be added with minimal parliamentary scrutiny on the basis of an advice perhaps from sage but perhaps not, perhaps from the joint bio-security committee which means in secret.’

Mr Hoar told the court that ‘no impact assessment’ had been made for the rules and that the government had ‘not sought to explain or inform why it is so urgent that these regulations be put before Parliament in this way’.

 ‘They were clearly planned for some time it was possible as in other explanatory notes for the secretary of state to give some indication why he thought this was so urgent,’ he added. 

The hearing is set to continue at the High Court.

In Mr Dolan’s previous case, he raised more than £200,000 through crowdfunding in order to launch the claim against Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson over corona virus regulations – imposed in March following the outbreak of Covid-19.

Mr Dolan previously claimed the rules are costing the economy £2.5billion each day and were beyond the Government’s powers.

He claimed the measures were a ‘disproportionate breach of fundamental rights and freedoms’ protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Dolan also challenged the decision to close schools across the country to most children, while asking for disclosure of minutes from all Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meetings since the beginning of the year.

The Government opposed the claim and argued that Mr Dolan’s case was not open to legal challenge.

And in a ruling at the High Court in July, Mr Justice Lewis refused permission for a full hearing of the challenge.

That case in now be appealed, and is due at the Court of Appeal later this month. 

Tycoon braving death threats and £1m legal bill to take on PM Boris Johnson over coronavirus: I’m going to court to stop lockdown wrecking business 

Simon Dolan, the multi-millionaire entrepreneur challenging the Government’s lockdown in the High Court, divides opinion. To the 250,000 supporters of his Keep Britain Free movement, he’s a champion of small businesses devastated by ever-stricter lockdown restrictions. 

Pole position: Simon Dolan now owns his own motorsports team

His opponents, however, accuse the businessman of being ‘selfish’ and ‘killing people’ – and have sent anonymous death threats on social media. 

Dolan, 51, shrugs off the trolls – ‘they’re just words on a screen; if you don’t like it, delete it’ – and says the longer the lockdown continues, the quieter his critics become. 

Now Health Secretary Matt Hancock has introduced the Rule of Six and 10pm curfews, Dolan says ‘around 99 per cent’ of the messages he receives are supportive – including thousands of letters and emails from small business owners. 

‘They have written to me saying, ‘Thank you so much for what you are doing and this is my situation’, and they spend a long time typing these emails out,’ he says. ‘In a way you are acting almost as a therapist – it seems to be a way in which they can get their predicament off their mind and explain it to someone who understands. 

‘They have tried Public Health England, they have tried their MP, but no one actually understands – and I suppose I do.’ 

Dolan, who grew up in a three-bed semi in Essex, says he can empathise with firms struggling to survive Covid because he made his £200million fortune through ‘hard graft’, starting out selling eggs and cheese on a market stall in Chelmsford before building up a portfolio of businesses spanning from aviation to software and motorsports. 

Speaking from his chateau in France – one of his eight homes alongside a £15million Caribbean estate on Mustique that was once owned by David Bowie – Dolan says he relates to small business owners because, ‘I know how hard you have to work, and how much you have to put yourself on the line.’ 

He says: ‘Any death is tragic, and I’m not trying to say the economy is more important than people’s lives.

But there are people who have been working for 50 years to build a business and now they’re screwed – they are trying to do everything they can to stay open, and the public health officials are putting more and more restrictions in place and no one wants to come.’ 

He believes the full economic impact of the lockdown won’t be felt until next year, when he thinks employment will spiral to six million and businesses will have to start repaying loans taken out to survive the crisis.

‘Hospitality businesses will still be crippled – you won’t see football stadiums at full capacity next spring – and they will have to start repaying loans out of taxed profits, which they probably won’t be making,’ he says. 

‘That’s when we’re really going to see problems kicking in. The Government should instruct the banks to waive the loans – otherwise those businesses are going to go bust and the banks are going to come to the Government for 80 per cent.’ Dolan’s own businesses include Jota Aviation, a chartered aviation business based at Southend Airport that ferries around Premier League footballers and other corporate clients.

He says it has been ‘hit badly’ by the pandemic, with its usual £20million revenue down 40 per cent due to quarantine travel bans. ‘Business is business,’ he shrugs. ‘You’ve just got to fight with what you’ve got.’ 

He decided to challenge the lockdown in April, after reading a newspaper article by barrister Francis Hoar who suggested there could be a judicial review similar to the legal claim against the parliamentary process for Brexit, which was brought by businesswoman Gina Miller. 

Dolan contacted Hoar’s Field Court Chambers and they joined forces with Michael Gardner, a partner at law firm Wedlake Bell. ‘A week after speaking to him, we were all up and running and ready to take on the Government.’ 

His legal claim argues that the Government’s lockdown in response to the pandemic is ‘disproportionate’ to the threat and breaches fundamental freedoms protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Dolan has already spent around £130,000 on legal costs, with a further £280,000 from a crowdfunding campaign backed by 9,500 people.

He initially started it as a personal crusade, but has now been joined by people ‘from all walks of life’, including pensioners ‘who think the whole thing’s bloody ludicrous’.

He says: ‘They are quite happy to look after themselves, they don’t need looking after. 

‘What right does the Government have to tell a 60 or 70-year-old to stay indoors and not visit his grandchildren because he might die? Surely that’s up to him?’ 

His opinion has been supported in recent weeks by Lord Sumption, a retired Supreme Court judge who called blanket lockdown restrictions ‘despotic and ineffective’ and argued that Britons should be allowed to manage the virus themselves because they can ‘fine-tune their precautions to their own situation’. 

Lord Sumption has spoken to Dolan’s legal team to share views. ‘Having an ex-Supreme Court judge basically telling people to break the law, that’s a big thing,’ Dolan says. Other well-known figures are starting to speak out against the lockdown – although Dolan says many business owners remain silent, for fear of alienating a proportion of their customers.

Insulated by his self-made wealth, Dolan has no such qualms. He calls Matt Hancock ‘a tinpot dictator’ and refuses to wear a facemask. He says: ‘I have worn one once, to buy a baguette in Monaco. I was only in there for five minutes and I hated it, I find them awful.’ 

He adds that the Rule of Six is ‘utterly ludicrous’ and that it puts the police ‘in a dreadful position’. ‘I am fairly sure a policeman will turn up at someone’s door with eight people there and it will kick off horribly and someone is going to get killed or badly injured.’ 

In July, a High Court judge threw out Dolan’s claim but it will be heard in the Court of Appeal next month. The hearing will be live in an open court, rather than via Zoom, but Dolan mischievously says social distancing won’t be possible because the Government is bringing 11 lawyers. He hopes to attend in person – as long as quarantine rules allow him to fly from his main bases in Monaco or France. 

If he loses, he could have to pay up to £900,000 for the Government’s costs but says his crusade will still have been worth it.

‘The costs are irritating but they don’t make any difference to my life. It will be worth it in a sad way – because if we lose the appeal, it will mean the Government can do what the hell they want, and that includes telling people they can’t bury their parents or see them in care homes.’ 

He adds that he ‘can’t bear politicians or anything they stand for’ – and that the only British politician he admired was Margaret Thatcher. 

‘One of the things she said was, ‘We don’t do what’s popular, we do what’s right’. I don’t think that’s been applicable for 30 years now.’

 

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