Dutch curfew remains in place as appeal court adjourns decision

Government rushes new legislation through parliament following surprise loss in court

Willem Engel of the “Virus Truth” protest group leaves the court of appeal  in The Hague on Friday. Photograph: Remko De Waal/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Willem Engel of the “Virus Truth” protest group leaves the court of appeal in The Hague on Friday. Photograph: Remko De Waal/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

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A Dutch appeals court charged with delivering an emergency ruling on the validity of the country’s controversial coronavirus curfew has adjourned its decision for a week – effectively leaving the curfew securely in place until then.

The court delayed its “definitive” decision as it became clear that the caretaker government led by Mark Rutte would be successful in rushing new legislation reinstating the curfew through both houses of parliament by Friday evening, after it was undermined by a legal challenge last Tuesday.

The presiding judge said that while the intention had been to rule immediately on the government’s appeal against the surprise win by anti-curfew campaign group Viruswaarheid (“Virus Truth”), the court now wished to look at the issues “more thoroughly”.

Challenged in the closing seconds of the hearing by Willem Engel, leader of Viruswaarheid, who described the decision as “a strange turn of events”, Judge Marie-Anne Tan-de Sonnaville replied: “We want speed, but not too much speed.”

She said the court would issue its decision in writing on Friday, February 26th – although the reality is that by then the legal route out of the current crisis is likely to have been long overtaken by events in parliament, where the new curfew legislation was being debated even as the court was in session.

Draft legislation

In anticipation of the possibility that Friday’s hearing might again go against it, the government sent new draft legislation to the two houses of parliament on Wednesday evening in a bid to correct alleged deficiencies in the original emergency law, passed in January.

Parliament has been in recess in advance of the March 17th general election, but on Thursday – after they had been briefed by a number of legal and medical experts – MPs returned virtually to debate the Bill, which was later passed by an overwhelming 115 of the 150 members.

It was opposed by the two far-right parties, Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party and Forum for Democracy, along with the orthodox Calvinist, SGP, and the Party for the Animals.

Mr Wilders claimed that a caretaker government was not entitled to table legislation with such far-reaching social consequences.

During the debate, Mr Rutte again underlined the importance of the curfew, though he warned that the long-anticipated prospect of a loosening of some restrictions from March 2nd was still “not looking hopeful”.

By Friday evening the curfew legislation was heading for a vote in the Senate, where the coalition government does not have a majority, but where it looked likely to be supported by at least some left-wing parties on the basis of the expert advice.

When remains unclear this weekend is where the government’s new legislation will stand if next Friday’s court decision again finds against the reinforced curfew.