Judge, defendant walk out in dramatic court hearing over café owner's failure to display Covid QR code

Kim Baker Wilson
Source: 1News

A tumultuous court hearing for the first business owner charged with failing to display a Covid-19 QR code has ended with both the judge and defendant walking out and then him being forcibly taken into custody by security guards.

Rupa Café in Auckland

Dilip Rupa was charged earlier this year after being warned by WorkSafe.

He owns Rupa’s café in Freemans Bay in Auckland and is charged with intentionally failing to comply with the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act.

Rupa entered the Auckland District Court with a hand-held video camera which is against court rules and refused to enter the dock when asked.

“I’m not going into the dock, what’s the reason? I don’t want to go into the dock,” Rupa remarked as he verbally tussled with Judge Anna Fitzgibbon.

Rupa, who is representing himself, chose to stand among lawyers.

He then walked with his camera to 1 NEWS’ reporter asking more questions.

A supporter in the public gallery loudly questioned the charge Rupa is facing.

The hearing amounted to a ruckus and lasted only minutes before Judge Fitzgibbon said she was adjourning the case and left the courtroom.

Rupa then said he was leaving too and walked out.

When the judge returned, Rupa also returned saying he was being threatened and intimidated and again refused the judge’s request to step into the dock.

Rupa then requested another judge.

Judge Fitzgibbon told the court she was retiring and ordered Rupa to be put in custody.

He was physically taken away by police security while still arguing.

It is unclear if the hearing will continue.

A court worker also announced to the public gallery that the private filming of court is prohibited and anyone doing so risked being held in custody.

Rupa missed earlier court appearances he was supposed to be at, claiming his health would be jeopardised if he came during lockdowns.

He has also previously written to the Auckland District Court arguing it was “only proper” for the judge to withdraw the case on the grounds of it being “a constitutional matter”.

“The court has no right to act as a discharge for politicians when people question the legislation and process in relation to the constitutional rights,” he wrote.

At an earlier appearance, a judge expressed concern at the case’s slow progress and said the charge was a serious one while people were “in the throes of a worldwide pandemic”.

At a later hearing in March, the 5th time the matter was called, the case was pushed out yet again when it was stood down because of a conflict of interest.

Rupa did not attend three out of the previous five hearings.

Both Police and WorkSafe made several visits to Rupa in a bid to educate the café owner about the requirement to display a QR tracing code.

He claimed in online videos that he had other ways of contact tracing.

A date for a case review was later set but not without further argument.

Rupa returned to the courtroom from custody at 5.40pm and was asked by Judge Fitzgibbon to enter a plea.

“I can’t enter a plea against something that I have not done,” Rupa said.

“So your answer is you’re not going to enter a plea? I’m not going to have you to continue to interrupt me,” the judge said.

“What is your plea?”

“Whatever you want,” Rupa replied.

When Judge Fitzgibbon said a plea had to be either guilty or not guilty, Rupa asked the judge if she was intimidating him.

“I will take that as a deemed not guilty plea,” Judge Fitzgibbon said.

“So you’re intimidating me, thank you,” Rupa said back.

A deemed not guilty plea means the case can proceed to a case review hearing which has been set for June.

Judge Fitzgibbon strongly urged Rupa to see a legal advisor.

The café owner’s belongings which were taken from him when he was taken into custody were returned in a large plastic bag.

The Timeline:

• September 2020 – Café owner Dilip Rupa is warned by WorkSafe.
• 5 January – Rupa is charged with intentionally failing to comply with the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act. He fails to attend court and an arrest warrant is issued.
• 26 January – Rupa appears in court and is remanded without plea to enter one on another date.
• 17 February – Rupa again fails to appear to enter the plea. The matter is put off until today.
• 3 March – Rupa does not show in court, and later sends a medical certificate.
• 12 March – Rupa appears in court but the hearing is stood down because of a conflict of interest.
• 19 April – Rupa refuses to enter the court dock and is put in court custody.