New Zealand’s government acted unlawfully in operating its Covid-19 border controls, a court ruled Wednesday, saying the system had stripped citizens of their right to return home.
In a 140-page written decision, Justice Jillian Mallon said the managed isolation and quarantine process did not allow personal circumstances to be sufficiently considered and prioritised.
Justice Mallon found that the system itself was a critical component of the coronavirus elimination strategy.
But she said its failure to take into account people’s specific needs meant the government had acted “unlawfully, unreasonably and in breach of the Bill of Rights that states every New Zealand citizen has the right to enter New Zealand”.
The challenge to the High Court in Wellington was brought in February by the “Grounded Kiwis”, an advocacy group that had lobbied for the restrictions to ease.
It argued New Zealanders offshore had been stripped of their rights and some had become traumatised by failed attempts to return home.
Its challenge focused on the restrictions in place over the period from September 1 to December 17 last year.
Demand for places in the country’s limited isolation and quarantine hotel rooms significantly outstripped supply during that period, meaning thousands missed out on places in the lottery-based booking system.
Passport numbers were entered into “virtual lobbies”, with only a small percentage granted a room if successful.
Examples highlighted during a judicial review included a woman who was left stranded overseas, unable to return home to bury her only son when he died from a medical event.
Another was unable to be there while her son underwent cancer treatment.
The isolation and quarantine requirement was scrapped for all returning New Zealand citizens in mid-March.
Crown lawyer Aedeen Boadita-Cormican defended the system in court and said it was created as a protection that was fair to all New Zealanders at home and abroad under extreme circumstances.