Britons could potentially sue the Government for billions of pounds in compensation for ‘falsely imprisoning’ the nation with its Stay At Home order at the outbreak of coronavirus in March, a law lecturer has predicted.
Dr Jonathan Morgan, director of law at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, said a class action against the Government was ‘unprecedented’ – but added that so was the lockdown itself.
In a blog post published yesterday he wrote: ‘Could the regulations’ invalidity expose the Government to mass liability—to the entire UK population—for the tort of false imprisonment?
The UK Government carried the message ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ at the beginning of the pandemic in March
‘Thus stated, the proposition seems highly unlikely. It would certainly be unprecedented.
Dr Jonathan Morgan, director of law at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge
‘But perhaps that is because a pre-emptive quarantine of the entire population is also unprecedented. It is worth thinking about a hypothetical claim.’
Dr Morgan used the example of Ibrahima Jollah, a Liberian citizen who was ordered to stay at home every night between 11pm and 7am between 2014 and 2017.
Mr Jollah was warned he would be liable to imprisonment or a fine if he failed to comply without reasonable excuse – much like Britons were told to stay home unless they had a reasonable excuse including exercise or shopping.
The Supreme Court found the Secretary of State had no legal power to impose the restrictions and Mr Jollah was awarded £4,000 for the two-and-a-half years he was ‘falsely imprisoned’.
If Mr Jollah’s case is applied to the UK population the UK Government could be forced to pay £800 – for six months – to each British citizen.
It could mean a total of £4.8 billion in compensation has to be paid in a nationwide class action.
Dr Morgan added: ‘If a test case established that the entire population were entitled to similar payments, the financial consequences for the government would be astonishing.’
A sign which says ‘stay at home to save lives’ on the A470 southbound on October 26 in Cardiff
It comes ahead of tomorrow’s second national lockdown, dubbed Lockdown2.
Shops, bars and restaurants have been ordered to shutter for a month from midnight as part of continuing Government efforts to balance suppression of the virus with keeping the economy going.
In his blog post, Dr Morgan referred to former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption’s warning ministers have been exceeding their rightful powers by imposing such stringent measures.
In a speech last month Lord Sumption accused ministers of using the police to suppress opposition to their policies, of creating new criminal offences without the legal right to do so, and of grabbing unconstitutional powers by issuing misleading guidance.
A social distancing sign in a shopping arcade on October 28, 2020 in Bridgend, Wales
Britain’s streets were empty as millions of people stayed home unless they needed to buy essential items. Pictured, Oxford Street in London was deserted during the lockdown
At the Cambridge Freshfields annual law lecture, he accused the Government of ‘tendentiously’ presenting guidance as if it was law – such as the two-metre social distancing rule.
Dr Morgan wrote: ‘One of Lord Sumption’s major claims was that the Covid-19 regulations that have restricted the free movement of the UK population were, in many instances, ultra vires (meaning outside of) the empowering legislation.’
Lord Sumption opened his speech by blasting the Government for placing ‘everybody under a form of house arrest’.
‘During the Covid-19 pandemic, the British state has exercised coercive powers over its citizens on a scale never previously attempted,’ he said.
‘It has taken effective legal control, enforced by the police, over the personal lives of the entire population: where they could go, whom they could meet, what they could do even within their own homes.
‘For three months it placed everybody under a form of house arrest, qualified only by their right to do a limited number of things approved by ministers.’
Meanwhile, charities have lashed out at the Government’s decision to announce a return to shielding for around two million people just hours before England was dragged into a draconian second lockdown.
Except for exercise and medical appointments, people considered to be at a very high risk of dying if they catch Covid-19 should remain at home and not meet up with others, officials said today.
The Department of Health toughened its guidance just weeks after reassuring people that shielding would not return and ‘soft advice’ would be used instead.
Announcing the national intervention in a gloomy press conference on Saturday night, Boris Johnson insisted ministers would ‘not ask people to shield again in the same way’.
The vulnerable won’t have to protect themselves from members of their own household and can go outside to exercise or visit a doctor but the ‘stay at home at all times’ message is back.