Court overturns quarantine for compassionate release, officials too 'rigid'

Garth Bray
Source: 1News

Quarantined travellers pleading for early release to visit dying relatives have been turned down 24 times since New Zealand closed its borders more than a month ago.

Auckland High Court (file).

Today, the High Court released a decision which ordered that Oliver Christiansen be let out so he could be at his dying father’s bedside, with just hours to spare.

“The decisions to decline permission are on their face legally flawed,” Justice Tracey Walker, who sits at the High Court at Auckland, said in her judgement after an urgent hearing on Friday.

Justice Walker instructed officials to let Mr Christiansen out of a central city hotel where he was in managed isolation and to allow him to drive himself to his father’s home - which he did, spending 36 hours with his father before he died.

“The family were absolutely delighted to be together at that very sad and difficult time for them,” Mr Christiansen’s barrister, Simon Foote QC, said.

Mr Christiansen had flown from London on April 23 after his father’s cancer deteriorated suddenly. He arrived with no symptoms of Covid-19.

He was checked every few days. He requested a Covid-19 test but was refused one and his father was at home receiving palliative care, not in hospital where a bedside meeting might risk others.

He fit the description for compassionate exemption under law, but three times Ministry of Health officials refused to show compassion or discretion, instead taking a narrow view of their powers.

“It is unlawful to blindly follow a policy if that policy is not reflective of the actual position in law,” according to Justice Walker’s judgement.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she expects the Ministry of Health will assess how it applies the policy in the future.

“There seems to be concern that it was an automated approach to requests taken on compassionate grounds. I am sure (MoH) will be reflecting on this judgement," she said.

In the same press conference, the Prime Minister also mistakenly claimed Ministry officials had granted 18 requests for people to leave quarantine to visit dying relatives.

In fact, the Ministry of Health has granted none. It has since corrected this in a statement to 1 NEWS and offered the Prime Minster an apology for contributing to any confusion with the way it presented the figures to her.

Have you been denied a compassionate exemption to the lockdown or quarantine rules? Contact us - email garth.bray@tvnz.co.nz

Justice Walker’s full judgement.