Legal challenge to ban on children’s sport put back

A legal challenge to the prohibition on outdoor sports for children in Northern Ireland has been put back amid new plans to ease restrictions next month.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 3:41 pm

The case brought on behalf of an eight-year-old boy from Magherafelt was due to be heard at the High Court today (Thursday, March 18).

But proceedings were adjourned until May following the announcement that sporting activities are scheduled to return on a restricted basis from April 12.

Counsel for the boy argued that the case should still be given priority because of continued uncertainty over what will happen on that date.

NI Executive has banned outdoor sports for children and young people.

Fiona Doherty QC also stressed: “The court has over 100 pages of heartfelt letters from children and their parents about the affect those restrictions are having on them. Children are still suffering from the impact of these restrictions.”

The schoolboy is seeking to judicially review the ban imposed by the Stormont Executive as part of efforts to combat Covid-19.

His lawyers claim there is no evidence that the risk of transmitting the virus is increased by children playing sport outside.

Instead, they allege, the prohibition is contributing to a crisis in young people’s physical and mental welfare during the ongoing pandemic.

Further grounds of challenge centre on allegations that the ban is discriminatory, with adults allowed to continue elite sports.

It is also contended that Northern Ireland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma, was not included in the decision-making process.

Ms Doherty indicated the case could not get underway due to last-minute developments. Along with the announcement made on Tuesday, she said a further 200 pages of legal documentation has just been served in response to the challenge.

“Regrettably we have concluded that both the decision and the documents raise a number of issues that require further consideration,” counsel added.

Asked if a confirmed return to sports for children would lessen the urgency in the case, she argued there would still be a chance of restrictions being re-imposed in future.

Tony McGleenan QC, representing the Department of Health, agreed the case should be put back: “Clearly there’s new information and the matter ought to be addressed with that new information in mind.”

Mr Justice Colton re-listed the challenge for May 20.