Lawyer for Charlotte Bellis issues open letter to Chris Hipkins

Source: 1News

By Jane Nixon and Vandhna Bhan

The lawyer acting for Charlotte Bellis, the pregnant Kiwi journalist who has battled Government officials for a spot in MIQ over the past week, on Wednesday issued an open letter to Covid-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins.

It comes following what Bellis and her lawyer allege are untrue statements made by Hipkins about her application to MIQ.

Hipkins said on Monday Bellis was offered consular assistance twice.

Tudor Clee, the lawyer for Bellis, said on Tuesday they were "looking at options", claiming Hipkins had breached her privacy, that permission was not asked and that statement was not correct.

“I understand she wanted to return on a specific date and that officials reached out to her for more information shortly after looking at her application. The emergency allocation criteria includes a requirement to travel to New Zealand within the next 14 days. Ms Bellis indicated she did not intend to travel until the end of February and has been encouraged by MIQ to consider moving her plans forward," Hipkins also said on Monday.

It comes after the Afghanistan-based reporter spoke out about her battle to return home.

Bellis had addressed this earlier after MIQ head Chris Bunny also highlighted the two week requirement.

"(Bunny) says I was invited to reapply within 14 days of travel. For the record - our rejection email states even if we apply within 14 days, we have no evidence that we need time-critical treatment," Bellis tweeted.

Read more: Hipkins responds to plight of Kiwi journalist in Afghanistan

On Wednesday, Clee filed the letter with the Crown Law office.

"On January 30 2022 Minister Hipkins issued a statement in relation to my client Ms. Bellis," the letter reads.

"I understand she wanted to return on a specific date and that officials reached out to her for more information shortly after looking at her application. The emergency allocation criteria includes a requirement to travel to New Zealand within the next 14 days.

"The rejection email to Ms. Bellis from the Emergency Allocation Team dated 24 January 2022 states:

“We have sent you an email advising we have deactivated your application as you do not intend to arrive within the next 14 days. To be considered outside of the 14 days, please provide evidence to support your reasoning.”

"This makes it explicitly clear that applying within 14 days is not a requirement.

"Furthermore Ms. Bellis had provided supporting evidence," Clee said.

Read more: MIQ ruling leaves pregnant Kiwi journalist stuck in Afghanistan

"Furthermore Crown Law will recall making the following submission at the High Court on 4 separate occasions: The respondent contends that, if an applicant is applying to travel beyond the 14-day period, it is for them to establish that “special circumstances” apply.”

"Minister Hipkins’ statement regarding a supposed 14-day rule is therefore misleading," Clee alleges.

"It implies Ms. Bellis filed her application incorrectly. This is patently false.

"Minister Hipkins also accepts that Ms. Bellis’ situation fits the criteria of “special circumstances”.

"He states:

"I want to be clear, there is a place in MIQ for people with special circumstances like Ms. Bellis. No one's saying there is not” [my emphasis added]

"Beyond Ms. Bellis’ case, there are wider ramifications," Clee said.

"Minister Hipkins’ misrepresentation poses danger to other applicants for Emergency Allocations. They may be in situations that require an application outside of 14 days but will incorrectly believe they cannot apply. This is callous, and risks causing harm to already vulnerable people.

"I seek written and verbal statements from the Minister clarifying that it is permissible to apply outside 14 days if evidence of special circumstances is provided, and that Ms. Bellis correctly did so.

"MBIE’s actions have resulted in the most widely read, shared, and translated news articles about women’s rights abuses in New Zealand’s history. I hope the Minister can look beyond the individual nature of this case and properly consider the needs of all future applicants.

"I file this as an open letter given the importance of transparency. The lack of transparency by MBIE in pregnancy applications is precisely the reason this situation arose in the first place," the letter finishes.

MInister Hipkins' office declined to comment, a spokesperson saying "any further communication will be directly with Ms Bellis and her lawyer".

On Wednesday, Hipkins said he would not apologise to Bellis given "she is considering her potential legal options".