LONDON: The UK government’s travel restrictions on Pakistan were challenged this week in a judicial review petition, on grounds that the policy was made without legal authority.

UK-based Barrister Rashid Ahmed filed the petition on behalf of a British Pakistani family that has faced several challenges in its attempt to return to the UK, including flight cancellations, rising ticket prices and the looming mandatory GBPB1750 payment for hotel quarantine. The petition maintains that the decision to put Pakistan on the ‘red list’ is disproportionate and that the mandatory requirement for Pakistan travellers to quarantine is “discriminatory”.

“There is no evidence at all of any other variants of Covid-19 in Pakistan, other than the UK variant…. Prevention of the UK variant cannot and will not be achieved by the addition of Pakistan to the Red List. Furthermore, no meaningful reduction in general infection rates can be achieved,” it said.

Travel curb on Pakistan challenged through petition

A judicial review is a legal challenge that can be brought against a government body in order to question the lawfulness of its decision. Applications do not always go to the trial stage, as a judge must first grant permission for the hearing to go ahead. If the permission is given, the government body must respond to the claim, though a successful review does not in itself have any bearing on the reversal of decisions.

The review was filed as the UK government came under criticism for its move to add Pakistan to the ‘red list’ at a time when countries such as France and India, where cases are soaring, were not facing curbs.

On Monday, weeks after Pakistan travel was curbed, Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock said India was added to the ‘red list’ effective April 23. He said 103 cases of the Indian variant have been found in the UK, an increase from last week’s reported figure of 77. The Indian variant, which has a ‘double mutation’, is said to be driving cases and hospitalisations in India. However, the Indian government is yet to confirm that the variant, B.1.617., is behind the surge in hospital admissions and deaths.

Scores of MPs in the UK have joined British-Pakistani lawmakers in calling out the UK government for its decision. MPs representing constituencies with a large number of British-Pakistanis have said the curbs are “arbitrary”, and have been led by “politics not data”.

One Labour MP, Yasmin Qureshi even wrote to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, demanding charter flights for stranded citizens as well as clarity on when the curb will be reviewed.

The UK government added Pakistan to the ‘red list’ of countries effective April 9. Passengers from Pakistan are currently denied entry to the UK unless they are British or Irish nationals or have residency rights. The cost for one adult in a hotel room for 10 days is £1,750, which does not include the mandatory £210 each passenger has to pay for testing in this period.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2021

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