A three-judge bench of the High Court of New Zealand ruled Wednesday that the first nine days of the COVID-19 lockdown imposed by the government were unlawful.
The case was filed by Wellington lawyer Andrew Borrowdale. The lockdown came after statements in late March by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and government officials requesting that citizens stay at home. The actual order imposing lockdown restrictions, issued by Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, came into place only on April 3, nine days later.
The court said fundamental freedoms like the right of assembly, association and movement guaranteed under the New Zealand Bill of Rights were violated during the initial period. The court observed, “[w]hile there is no question that the requirement was a necessary, reasonable and proportionate response to the COVID-19 crisis at that time, the requirement was not prescribed by law.”
Attorney General David Parker said, “[t]he Government was trying to educate people about the health risks and transition them quickly to take actions that curtailed normal freedoms like staying at home to stop the spread of the virus.” He also observed that these timely measures played a crucial role in containing the spread of the disease, which minimized damage to the economy.
While questions were raised about the necessity of the challenge, the court emphasized: “[e]ven in times of emergency, however, and even when the merits of the Government response are not widely contested, the rule of law matters.”