More than a dozen Tory MPs and peers have backed a court challenge against the imposition of face masks in school classrooms, saying there is “insufficient evidence” to support the policy and it must be withdrawn with “immediate effect”. The Telegraph has the story.
The Government was sent a Letter before Action by lawyers acting for the parent campaign group UsForThem which claims the current guidance is disproportionate, irrational and discriminatory.
The legal challenge is supported by several Tory politicians, including Sir Graham Brady, chair of the powerful 1922 committee of backbenchers, Robert Halfon, Chair of the Education Select Committee, and Marcus Fysh, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Education.
It is exceptionally rare for MPs to back a legal challenge against their own Government, and the move will ramp up pressure on ministers to axe the policy.
On January 1st, just two days before millions of pupils were due to return to the classroom following the Christmas break, the Government announced that all secondary school pupils would be asked to wear masks during lessons.
The move came just after teacher union bosses issued ministers with a series of demands which included asking why face masks were not required in classrooms in England while they were in Wales and Scotland.
Ministers said at the time that the decision to reimpose masks in classrooms for the first time since May last year would be reviewed on January 26th.
The Letter before Action, sent from JMW Solicitors on Saturday and addressed to the Education Secretary, says the policy must be “immediately revoked”.
It points out that the pandemic has had a “profound impact” on children and says it is “imperative” that steps are taken to aid their mental and physical recovery.
The guidance on face masks in the classroom is “plainly discriminatory”, the letter says, since it puts children with special education needs at a “significant” disadvantage.
The Education Secretary has failed to consider the impact on children’s wellbeing of “largely continuous” mask wearing for up to ten hours per day, it adds.
“To make this decision at this stage is to make a decision that no reasonable public body would make in all the circumstances,” the letter says.
“There is no rational basis to introduce this precaution at this stage. There is apparently no credible scientific evidence to support it and at the same time a large – and growing – volume of evidence which shows its harmful impact.”
JMW Solicitors has given the DfE until January 26th to respond and say that if changes are not made to the guidance, they will launch a judicial review.
Other Tory MPs backing the letter include Steve Baker, Deputy Chair of the Covid Recovery Group, Chris Green, the MP for Bolton West, and David Warburton, MP for Somerset and Frome.
Dame Helena Morrissey and Baroness Foster are among the Conseravtive peers who have lent their support to the legal challenge. And several academics also endorse the legal letter, including Professor Carl Heneghan, Director of Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, and Professor Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at Oxford University.
Worth reading in full.