28 Feb 2022

Police and defence mandates court case has opposition urging rethink

11:37 am on 28 February 2022

Last week's High Court judgment has ratcheted up the pressure over government mandates, with the opposition now arguing it makes the case to keep them even weaker.

Christopher Luxon

Christopher Luxon Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Justice Cooke found the order covering mandates for police and the defence force "does not involve a reasonable limit on the applicants' rights that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society and that it is unlawful".

It also noted the government's stated reason for requiring vaccination for these two groups - ensuring continuity of service through a pandemic, as opposed to limiting the spread of the virus. The judge concluded the current high vaccination rates and the nature of the Omicron outbreak would discount that justification.

However, the decision was specific to the police and the defence force. Legal experts say there appears to be little impact more broadly for other mandates.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it is only one adverse finding out of about five that have come before the courts, and the government's still considering whether to appeal against the decision.

National leader Chris Luxon says the decision could provide an avenue for further challenges. While he accepts it is specific to police and defence, he believes it will still come under close examination.

"And I suspect that's what the lawyers and others will be looking at, to say 'well, is there any other basis now for appealing the mandates?'"

He says as New Zealand moves through the worst of the outbreak, it becomes an "academic exercise" as the country should then be in a position to "progressively dismantle mandates".

"Once you get to peak Omicron, and you're on the way down, that's the time to start to do it.

"There are low-risk mandates and there are high-risk mandates and you just work your way through it," says Luxon, but it should be "laid out" by the government so people know what to expect.

ACT wants most Covid restrictions - including mandates - to be dumped immediately, saying they can no longer be justified under Omicron.

Leader David Seymour says with the latest decision, the court has found "Omicron has changed the mathematics of Covid policy".

David Seymour

David Seymour Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

It should be up to employers to individually set mandates if they wish, along with a more flexible and "humane" approach, he says.

"In general, if we allowed regular testing to be a substitute for vaccination, that would have been much better.

"And if we were prepared to say that actually we're going to make these rules only based on the risk that is present, then I think Omicron would be removing the justification for many of the private requirements that different organisations might make."

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