Saturday December 02, 2023

Judicial review challenging Pakistan-UK Covid ban list launched

By Our Correspondent
May 24, 2021

LONDON: The UK government’s decision to add Pakistan to the travel ban red list and failing to assist British citizens of Pakistani origin has been formally challenged in the High Court of Justice by way of judicial review seeking removal of Pakistan from the ban list and compensation for those who have had to pay extra travel, quarantine and expenses incurred as a result.

Solicitor Mohammed Asghar, Barrister Rashid Ahmed and Barrister Farhan Asghar have jointly issued judicial review proceedings over the government’s failure to assist thousands of British citizens currently stranded in Pakistan who are unable to pay outrageously high charges for hotel, quarantine and air travel.

The grounds for judicial review are supported by documents in excess of over 700 pages. The claim has been disclosed to the writer of this Article. The challenge is based on three main legal grounds. The first is that the UK government’s policy behind the hotel quarantine system - to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the import of variants of concern - is being thwarted by the failure to place higher risk countries on to the red list. Countries with high infection rates such as France or Canada are not on the red list and other countries such as India were added to the red list long after Pakistan was, despite India having much higher rates of infection. The Indian variant has now been declared a variant of concern and is spreading fast in the UK. Therefore, it is said in the judicial review that there can be little public health benefit from adding Pakistan to the red list and that measures such as isolation at home can, therefore, achieve the same result according to the judicialrReview petition papers.

The second ground for challenge is that the government’s decision breaches the Human Rights Act. The petition stresses that the sudden ban and the lack of an alternative repatriation plan violates fundamental human rights of thousands of British citizens of Pakistani origin who have found themselves in an impossible position.

The third is that the level of charges for hotel quarantine is set at unaffordable levels for many British citizens, resulting in children being stuck abroad and missing out on essential schooling.

The government is being asked to operate a waiver or reduction for those facing financial difficulties. Barrister Rashid Ahmed explained that he was dealing with a large number of cases of those unable to return to the UK due to lack of funds to pay for the quarantine. He said: “These families, the main bulk of British Pakistani communities in the UK, are either on low income or receiving benefits and/or are part time employed. The economic poverty of tens of thousands of people in Britain is a fact - a reality that didn’t exist over a year ago. Due to the lockdown, thousands have lost their jobs and have no means of income. Many of the people currently abandoned in Pakistan fall in this category. The UK government has failed to take this into consideration when making the said unreasonable/unlawful decision.

Barrister Rashid Ahmed also said the government has failed in its duty to safeguard a child’s welfare in such decision-making. “There has not been any proper consideration regarding the impact on their mental health, the serious damage to their education and/or their emotional well-being. British citizens of Pakistani heritage feel abandoned in Pakistan and are in fear of being imprisoned for 10 days due to the 10-day quarantine policy in hotels. Many of our clients have expressed that they feel they are being treated like criminals by the forced 10-day quarantine policy. Such action is arguably unlawful with no rational reasons justifying such a draconian decision with horrific consequences.”

It has been argued that British citizens returning from Pakistan having to pay such costs is discriminatory as such fees are not levied on those who arrive from countries which have higher rates of infection.

There has been a public outcry as to the real reasons behind why the UK government was slow to act in placing India on the red list, a country where the infection rates have been much higher than Pakistan, hence protecting UK citizens. Media and opposition Labour Party have questioned why Boris Johnson delayed the decision-making and didn’t put India on the red list and allowed in the Indian variant which has currently become a virus of concern.