• Helen Garnett

Legal News Round Up: June 2021

There was hope that by the start of summer we would see the COVID-19 pandemic come to an end. However, throughout June many developments have hampered worldwide vaccine production and distribution. In the United Kingdom, the lifting of restrictions on social contact has been postponed amid a surge in the Delta Variant of SARS-CoV-2, prolonging the lockdown. Further further afield, a vaccine swap agreement between Israel and Palestine was canceled while a legal battle between the European Union and AstraZeneca over delayed vaccine production reached its conclusion. Despite public health challenges to the global economy, world leaders met at the G7 summit and the UK entered into a trade agreement with Australia. Meanwhile, a class action lawsuit in the United States led to galactic consequences when a judge cited Star Wars in his ruling.


Easing of UK Lockdown Restrictions Postponed


The final restrictions on social contact and business capacities were due to be lifted in England on 21 June per Westminster’s original plan to exit a national lockdown. On 14 June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the easing of restrictions would be subject to a 4-week pause, expected to last until at least 19 July. Similarly, Scotland’s lockdown end date has been extended from 28 June to 19 July.


The postponement of removing gathering and capacity restrictions means that England will continue under Step 4 rules. This means that nightclubs must remain closed and certain businesses - such as pubs, cinemas, and theatres, must have a limited capacity. Capacity limits also remain on events like weddings and sports gatherings. Further restrictions remain on social contact, limiting the number of people who can mix indoors and outdoors.


The decision to extend restrictions is attributed to statistics which show that the number of cases of the Delta Variant continue to rise. It is also in line with many scientists who warned to wait until more of the population was vaccinated before returning to normal. Health Minister Edward Argar claims the 4-week extension could allow a further 10 million people to get vaccinated.


The decision has created worries about the impact it may pose to businesses, especially in the hospitality industry where rules on capacities remain stringent. Many have called for more support for struggling businesses in light of the decision to extend restrictions, especially since furlough has not been extended.


UK-Australia Post-Brexit Trade Agreement to Establish Mutual Recognition of Qualifications


Westminster has announced new measures to enable legal practice in Australia without requalifying in a post-Brexit trade agreement. The UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will establish mutual recognition of qualifications, a change welcomed by the UK’s Law Society.


The “agreement in principle” was established on 15 June during a meeting between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian PM Scott Morrison. The government hopes trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand will aid businesses and create jobs, positioning Britain to recover from the economic tumult posed by Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.


The legal profession will benefit from incentives for skill transfer and collaboration between regulators with the aim of addressing remaining barriers to practice. The decision was declared a "Big Win" by the Law Society. Features of the agreement include the Youth Mobility Scheme (which creates opportunities for Junior Lawyers) and greater cooperation between regulatory bodies.


European Union Loses Legal Dispute with Astrazeneca Over Delayed Vaccine Production


In Brussels, the EU lost a legal battle to compel pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to supply 120 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June. The case went to the Court of First Instance after the EU claimed that a delayed shipment violated the original commitment to supply 300 million doses by the end of June. AstraZeneca claimed that the target had not been met due to production problems at one particular plant in Belgium.


The EU lost the legal battle and AstraZeneca is not required to speed up their rate of production. However, the judge imposed obligations on AstraZeneca to supply a certain volume of vaccines by several milestones over the summer; AstraZeneca must deliver 15 million doses by 26 July, another 20 million by 23 August and further 15 million by 27 September for a total of 50 million doses. If they fail to supply these amounts, AstraZeneca must pay a penalty of 10 Euros per dose (around GBP 8.50 per dose). European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared that the ruling supported the EU's view that AstraZeneca had failed to meet its commitments.


Palestine Officials Cancels COVID-19 Vaccine Deal with Israel


A deal for a vaccine exchange between Israel and Palestine has been cancelled by the Palestinian Authority after an initial delivery of Pfizer jabs took place too close to their expiry date. The deal originally stipulated that Israel was to provide at least one million COVID-19 vaccines that they did not need to speed up the Palestinian vaccinaion program. In return, Palestinians agreed to return a similar number of Pfizer vaccines back later in the year.


However, the disruption came after an initial delivery of 90,000 doses which were close to their expiry date. The Palestinian Authority spokesman Ibrahim Melhem said that the expiry date meant the vaccines failed to conform to specifications contained in the agreement of the deal.


Previously, the United Nations criticised Israel’s failure to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to Palestinians living under its occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the Isreali vaccination programme, about 55 percent of eligible Israelies have been given both doses whereas only 30 percent of eligible Palestinians have received at least one dose.


Judge Cites Star Wars Sequels in Ruling


In a recent ruling on a class action lawsuit, the United States’ Ninth Circuit Court Judge Kenneth K. Lee made a reference to the Star Wars franchise to justify his decision. The lawsuit was against ConAgra Foods Inc., and explored whether or not the company was at fault for placing a “100% Natural” label on bottles of Wesson Oil.


Lee’s assessment of the case was that since ConAgra Foods Inc. no longer owns Wesson Oil they are not responsible and do not have power to make any such decision, suggesting that any guarantee offered by ConAgra in these circumstances would be deceptive. He claimed “That is like George Lucas promising no more mediocre and schlocky Star Wars sequels shortly after selling the franchise to Disney”. Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, and subsequent sequel films (namely The Rise of Skywalker and The Last Jedi) were poorly received. Judge Lee's ruling serves to cement their mediocrity.