A Glasgow cafe has won a legal action that prevents authorities from forcing it to close under coronavirus rules, in what is believed to be the first successful court challenge to a shutdown of Central Belt hospitality venues.
Giovanna Eusebi, Owner of Eusebi Deli in the city's affluent West End, said last night that she was "delighted" to have won an interim interdict against Glasgow City Council, which had ordered the business to stop serving customers.
The business had argued that it met the legal definition of “cafe”, which are legally allowed to continue operating, under rules set out by the Scottish Government but left to town halls to enforce.
Glasgow Council has adopted a hardline approach to the new restrictions, telling businesses to close on the basis that they did not meet the “spirit” of Nicola Sturgeon’s shutdown of pubs, bars and restaurants in Scotland’s Central Belt, even if they might meet the legal definition.
“We are delighted by the decision of the court which vindicates the position we have taken from the very beginning,” Ms Eusebi said, following the legal victory on Tuesday afternoon, which prevents the council from serving it with a prohibition notice.
“Since reopening in the summer, we have served thousands of customers in a safe and secure café and deli environment with every precaution in place. We look forward to getting back to concentrating on welcoming the people of Glasgow on that basis”.
The last-minute licensed cafe exemption, announced the day before the rules were due to come into force, caused widespread confusion as there was no legal definition separating cafes able to serve alcohol from restaurants.
Hours before the rules came into force, the Scottish Government published regulations that defined cafes as those mainly engaged in “the sale of non-alcoholic drinks, snacks or light meals.”
Many venues claimed they should have been allowed to stay open as they met the definition, with different approaches to enforcement by different local authorities leading to complaints of an unfair “postcode lottery”.
Glasgow City Council has this week issued “final warnings” to businesses that continued to open.
There have been claims that many other businesses are also defying orders to shut in Glasgow, on the basis that they meet the legal definition of cafe.
Asked about the cases yesterday, the First Minister hit back at accusations that the rules are unclear, and suggested that measures may have to tighten if people don’t follow the spirit of her rules.
“I’m afraid the reality is you can always argue these things in both ways,” she said. “We’ve kept cafes open to people who might live alone… it’s not an open invitation to people who might otherwise go out socialising normally to crowd into cafes. I have to appeal to a bit of human common sense here.”
She added: “That flexibility only works if people try to operate within the spirit of this and remember what the objective is. If all of us try to get around these restrictions then the inevitable conclusion, which is what I don’t want to have to reach, is that they have to be stricter.”
Hospitality businesses and opposition parties have lambasted the rules, which came into force on October 9 and have been extended beyond the initial date of October 25 to November 2, as “badly designed and poorly implemented”.
Stephen Montgomery, spokesperson for the Scottish Hospitality Group, told The Daily Telegraph: “The Scottish Government’s communications on the closure of restaurants over cafes has been at best farcical and at worst the catalyst for redundancies and closures across the hospitality industry.
“If you look in the dictionary, the definition of a cafe is ‘a restaurant’. What more can we say? It’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
Scottish Conservative economy spokesman, Maurice Golden, said the verdict showed that the SNP Government’s guidance for hospitality businesses is “nowhere near clear enough”. He added: “That is exactly why they should have involved businesses in decision making.”
A council spokeswoman said: “Legal proceedings are now live in relation to one premises and, for that reason, it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to make any detailed comment on that case.
“However, our existing advice to businesses about what does and doesn’t constitute a café remains unchanged.”