Legal challenge against ban on children's outdoor sports clears first hurdle

A legal challenge against the continued prohibition of children's outdoors sports, has cleared the first hurdle after the Department of Health decided not contest the application, leading a High Court judge to give the go-ahead for a Judicial Review.

The challenge is grounded on COVID-19 restrictions which have banned all outdoors sports for children, which it is argued is detrimentally impacting the physical and mental health of the youngest and most vulnerable members of the community.

Proceedings were issued against the Department after lawyers argued the rights of children had been ignored and outdoor sport could be safely and appropriately managed.

Stephen Atherton, the lawyer who brought the challenge on behalf of a young child, believes the action is necessary to enforce the rights of all children and give them a voice, which to date has been lacking.

Challenge to ban on children's sport.

He criticised the: “Continued silence” from the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young (NICCY), the Irish Football Association, IRFU , Ulster GAA and Ulster Hockey”.

Mr Atherton said: "I have repeatedly reached out to these organisations, seeking their assistance on behalf of the most vulnerable members of our society, but each have chosen to look the other way as children’s rights continue to be violated.

“This impetus comes against a backdrop of the Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland, Professor Siobhan O’Neill and other child health experts declaring publicly that the pandemic is having a devastating effect on children and child welfare is now a national emergency.

"The child I represent is currently at home, with no access to physical exercise at school, and prohibited by the NI Executive from playing the sport that he loves. His life is reduced to the size of a screen. Access to sport is being restricted at a time when it has never been more important.”

Today at High Court in Belfast it emerged the Department have accepted there is an arguable case and therefore elected not to contest the leave hearing.

Mr Justice Colton granted leave for the Judicial Review which will take place on 18 March.