Lobby group Grounded Kiwis have succeeded in their High Court challenge against the Government's managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system.
Grounded Kiwis, a group established to advocate for Kiwis seeking to enter New Zealand impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, laid out their concerns about MIQ in the High Court in February.
The group focused on the restrictions placed on New Zealand citizens over the period from September 1 to December 17. Kiwis entering the country needed a voucher for MIQ, at which they were required by law to be isolated for 14 days or seven days, depending on the rules in place at the time.
The High Court on Wednesday determined that the MIQ system did not sufficiently allow individual circumstances to be considered and prioritised where necessary.
High Court Justice Mallon said it was inevitable that MIQ would operate unjustly in individual cases when demand for places significantly exceeded supply.
Justice Mallon was critical of the virtual lobby system.
"It was not an appropriate mechanism where demand significantly exceeded supply and those seeking to access that supply had a fundamental right that was potentially impacted to different degrees."
The emergency allocation process was also criticised.
"The emergency allocation process as it operated was an inadequate method of seeking to ensure that New Zealanders could return if they were facing unreasonable delays or had a need to return that warranted priority," Justice Mallon wrote.
"There appears to have been no proper system to gather information from overseas New Zealanders about this. This information would have enabled system changes to be considered to better give effect to the right of citizens to return while still meeting the Government's public health aims.
"It was inevitable the system would operate unjustly in some individual cases because of this."
However, Justice Mallon said the requirement for arrivals to have a voucher in MIQ "did not in and of itself amount to an unjustified infringement" of New Zealanders' right to enter their country.
Justice Mallon also ruled that the requirements to isolate were reasonable and proportionate limits on the right to enter while they were in place.
"Other options would not sufficiently have achieved the public health objectives the Government had legitimately determined to pursue."
The Government, in its defence, said the restrictions imposed on the right to enter New Zealand were justified as part of its public health response to the pandemic.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday MIQ was "the least worst option" to help keep COVID-19 from entering and spreading in New Zealand.
"We have long acknowledged the difficult trade-offs we've had to make in our COVID-19 response to save lives and the effects of those decisions on all New Zealanders, particularly those living abroad," Hipkins said.
"This was particularly challenging for those applying for MIQ places between September and December 2021 and we acknowledge that the Court has found that, for some citizens, the virtual lobby system as it operated... may have infringed their right to enter New Zealand.
"We are carefully considering the Court's decision."
National's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop said the High Court ruling was a victory for Grounded Kiwis and the many Kiwis who wanted to come home but couldn't because of the MIQ system.
"Month after month, New Zealanders were shocked at the extraordinary suffering inflicted on many people because of the MIQ lottery," Bishop said on Wednesday.
"Kiwis were stuck offshore and couldn't return even when their visa rights expired in the countries they were in. Pregnant women like journalist Charlotte Bellis were denied MIQ vouchers to enter New Zealand.
"People couldn't return to be with loved ones in the final stages of their lives. We now have judicial confirmation of state sponsored cruelty that was the MIQ lottery."
Last week Newshub revealed that an internal memo from the Ministry of Health back in November said there was no longer "any" health justification for MIQ. It meant stranded Kiwis could have come home for Christmas.
Documents obtained by Newshub in March showed the MIQ lottery creators using "lollies at a party" to describe Kiwis trying to secure a room.
Polling of Kiwis who used MIQ found that almost 80 percent suffered from anxiety, depression and panic attacks.
MIQ is no longer required of people entering New Zealand and neither is self-isolation. From next Monday, visa waiver tourists will be able to enter the country and will be required to undergo three rapid antigen tests throughout their stay.