Coronavirus: Simon Bridges had a 'chuckle' after learning he was right to challenge lockdown's legality

Simon Bridges has claimed vindication after a court ruled part of the lockdown earlier this year illegal, saying he was a "voice in the wilderness" back in March and April in saying so.

While most of a Wellington lawyer's challenges to the lockdown were rejected, an order forcing Kiwis to stay at home except for essential trips was "not prescribed by law" for the first nine days, a court ruled earlier this week. The problem was fixed with an order under the Health Act on April 3.

"The Government always had the power to make lockdowns New Zealand-wide, close down all businesses," Labour MP and Attorney-General David Parker told The AM Show on Friday, "but they found that for the first period between the 25th of March and the 3rd of April, the early requests for people to stay in their bubbles turned into directions and that those directions should have been backed by a Health Act order, rather than rely on the Civil Defence Act."

National's Simon Bridges, who led the party at the time, said he "had a chuckle" when he heard about the court's decision.

"I was a voice in the wilderness back in lockdown. They said that the lockdown was unlawful - read the judgement, that's what they said."

The court also said while not entirely legal, the lockdown was "necessary, reasonable and proportionate" considering the threat of COVID-19. In the months following, New Zealand's response was held up internationally as one of the best, including by the World Health Organization.

"They said okay, maybe it was justified in a time of crisis," said Bridges, before directly addressing Parker.

"The reality is this - you had the advice that you were skating on thin ice, you personally had it, you wouldn't release it to us at the COVID committee, and now they're saying it's unlawful. I think we all know no one's going to lose sleep on this - New Zealanders just want the problems we have here and now fixed - but actually, Governments should only act lawfully."

Parker and Bridges on The AM Show.
Parker and Bridges on The AM Show. Photo credit: The AM Show

In May, Bridges demanded the Government release advice it received from Crown Law regarding the lockdown.

"I supported going into lockdown but the Government had a duty to New Zealanders to ensure that it was enforced legally," Bridges said at the time, while he was leading the Epidemic Response Committee. "David Parker needs to urgently release the advice to clear this up." 

Parker said the advice was "privileged" information, and it would be up to the courts to sort out any disputes over it. He called Bridges' move to summons the Solicitor-General, the Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and the Police Commissioner as a "constitutional outrage".

Bridges' request was thrown out by the Speaker. 

"They know they don't have solid, good, legal grounds for the lockdown," Bridges said afterwards. "The legality of the lockdown is important, we need rule of law not rule of press conferences."

Health Minister Chris Hipkins, who only got the job in July, compared the situation in March to an incoming tsunami.

"If a tsunami's coming, do you want the Government to say 'get out of the way' or do you want them to wait until they've got all the paperwork lined up first?"

The current lockdown - at level 3 in Auckland and level 2 in the rest of the country - has no such legal obstacles, having been ordered through the new COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020.