Court told NI Covid passport scheme ‘unjustified, intrusive and based on flimsy evidence’

Northern Ireland’s Covid certification scheme is unjustified, intrusive and based on “flimsy” evidence that vaccines prevent transmission of the virus, the High Court heard today.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 4:18 pm

Counsel for a Belfast man who has not been jabbed claimed he suffered stigmatisation by a policy which imposed restrictions on his liberty.

Even though a requirement for vaccine passports to enter bars, restaurants and cinemas has now been scrapped, Ronan Lavery QC insisted there is still profound public importance in restrictions that could be enforced again at any stage.

He said: “These are measures that go beyond inconvenience. They are discriminatory.”

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A smartphone displaying the Covid status app.

Risteard O’Murchu, 50, is seeking to judicially review the Department of Health’s decision to introduce the scheme late last year.

Covid certification required proof of full vaccination status, a negative test, or recovery from the virus.

Mr O’Murchu alleges the policy breaches human rights and seriously impacts on the everyday life of those who remain unjabbed.

His barrister told the court there was insufficient data to show vaccines are effective in preventing infection or transmission of the virus.

“We know now, anecdotally, that people with vaccines just as easily carry the virus,” Mr Lavery said.

He claimed that only a two-page document had been produced to back the case for the certificates.

“The evidence is flimsy, incomprehensible and inconsistent,” he submitted.

“There should be proper, scientific criteria set before such measures are introduced.”

Mr Justice Colton was told the scheme should not be used as a “back door” route towards mandatory vaccination.

During exchanges the judge stressed the overwhelming medical evidence shows being jabbed helps to combat “this awful disease”.

“There is clear social benefit in maximising vaccination rates,” he pointed out.

Counsel acknowledged it was an undoubtedly effective weapon in the fight against the pandemic, but asked: “Why this, and why now?”

He went on: “When one goes to the door of premises you are immediately revealing issues that are private medical issues, asked if you’re vaccinated or not.

“You are categorised vaccinated or non-vaccinated, with whatever stigma , presumptions or prejudices might be associated with that.”

Tony McGleenan QC, for the Department, countered that there should not be judicial intervention on issues of government policy.

The unvaccinated could still use Covid test results as an alternative means to gain entry to venues, he argued.

With passports now only required at nightclubs and 500-plus seat premises, Mr McGleenan highlighted that the Executive is to review remaining restrictions on February 10.

He added: “There’s every prospect (the case) will become wholly academic, if the direction of travel continues as forecast there is no issue for the court to address.”

Reserving judgment in Mr O’Murchu’s challenge, the judge said: “Some of the restrictions are still in place, I acknowledge that.”