Coronavirus: First nine days of alert level 4 were unlawful, court finds

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo credit: The AM Show

The High Court has ruled the first nine days of New Zealand's alert level 4 lockdown in March were technically unlawful.

Last month Wellington lawyer Andrew Borrowdale challenged the Government over three separate orders in regards to the legality of plunging the country into lockdown.

Borrowdale claimed New Zealand was put into lockdown unlawfully and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield went past his powers.

The High Court upheld one of Borrowdale's challenges - saying between March 26 and April 3, the Government's demand for Kiwis to stay home was justified and necessary but unlawful.

Under the Bill of Rights Act, the Government had limited certain rights and freedoms of New Zealanders, a High Court decision released on Wednesday says.

"While 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 and was therefore contrary to s5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act."

The decision says this problem was corrected on April 3, meaning the original lockdown announcement had no bearing on current or subsequent restrictions.

Other challenges made by Borrowdale failed and were dismissed, the decision says.

"Although we have concluded that there was for nine days an unlawful limitation of certain rights and freedoms, that must be seen in the context of the rapidly developing public health emergency the nation was facing."

The decision also says there were limits that could have been lawfully imposed by Dr Bloomfield at the time by simply issuing an order.

According to the decision, the required clarity was "lacking".

"Although the state of crisis during those first nine days goes some way to explaining what happened, it is equally so that in times of emergency the courts' constitutional role in keeping a weather eye on the rule of law assumes particular importance."