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English and Welsh church leaders withdraw legal action against the government following U-turn on church closures

by Kelly Valencia

A group of 122 church leaders has decided to stop legal action against the government following its decision to allow churches to remain open in England and Wales during the ongoing lockdown.  

The hearing was due to start this week, but the group decided it no longer needed to go ahead with the process given the government had "given us the authority" to decide whether to remain open or not. 

The group had decided to bring a judicial review against the government arguing that European human rights, such as Freedom of Religion or Belief, had been compromised during England and Wales' second lockdown imposed in October and November 2020. 

One of the church leaders involved is pastor of Trinity Grace Church in Ramsbottom, Oliver Allman-Smith. Speaking to Premier, he said that although the government hadn't given a reason for the U-turn in policy, he believed their pressure played a role. 

"Government haven't made any official statement and we wouldn't expect them to do that. They are not going to explain why they've done the U-turn," he said. 

"We're convinced ourselves that our action has played a very significant part in that U-turn. We think that the government lawyers have advised them that they were on very shaky ground."

But the U-turn in policy only applies to England and Wales. Scotland has remained steadfast in its view that keeping churches closed during the ongoing lockdown is the right approach.

Arguing against this, earlier this month 500 Scottish church leaders wrote a letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urging her to reverse lockdown rules, threatening legal action. 

Mr Allman-Smith told Premier that the Scottish government has been "a lot more stringent" in regard to church restrictions and said many of his counterparts are very concerned.

"It's very, very clear that the Scottish Government have on this matter, as with quite a number of matters, made a point of being different to Westminster," he said. 

"I do know a number of pastors and church leaders in Scotland who are obviously extremely concerned about this, and they are considering the pursuit of further action themselves. And we're very supportive of that. Very prayerful for them. We stand with them. And we believe that this action of the Scottish Government is not only illegal but also profoundly disturbing."

Lockdown restrictions in Scotland will remain in place until mid-February. The current lockdown rules will be reviewed on 2nd February.  

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