The Netherlands’s caretaker government has appealed to the public to continue to observe its controversial overnight curfew aimed at preventing a third wave of coronavirus – after a court ruled on Tuesday that it was illegal and should be lifted immediately.
The ruling by the court in The Hague shocked the country by finding flatly in favour of the anti-lockdown campaign group, Viruswaarheid (Virus Truth), that the curfew – which came into effect on January 23rd and sparked days of nationwide rioting – had unnecessarily infringed civil liberties.
The judges said the curfew, the first in the Netherlands since the second World War, lacked a proper legal basis because it had been imposed under emergency legislation, although there had, in fact, been no existential emergency in the sense of "a dyke being breached".
Fears raised by caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte that the increased risk of infection posed by coronavirus variants first detected in the UK constituted a new emergency were rejected by the court because no curfew had been imposed last year when the pressure on hospitals was greater.
In addition, when the cabinet had decided in principle last month that the curfew was necessary, it had delayed in order to allow a debate in parliament – but by waiting for that parliamentary backing, it had shown that there was no need for emergency legislation, the judges decided.
Along with the country’s second lockdown, the curfew, which runs from 9pm to 4.30am, is the centrepiece of the caretaker government’s anti-pandemic strategy and has seen the number of new cases fall to 2,875 in the 24 hours to Monday, well below the seven-day average of 3,469.
“We really need this curfew to make sure that the infection rate does not increase again”, Mr Rutte said at a hastily convened press conference on Tuesday evening.
“Even if the legal basis of the curfew was wrong, that does not mean the curfew itself is unnecessary.”
Justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus said the government would appeal the court's decision. He said fresh emergency legislation was also being drawn up, but that might be unnecessary if the appeal was successful.
Although Mr Rutte had appealed to the public to continue to observe the curfew, Mr Grapperhaus said he hoped there would be an urgent court hearing to decide whether it could remain in place pending the substantive appeal, which might be heard Friday.
Supermarkets have already said they will continue with curfew hours.
Tuesday’s judgment will have come as a major boost to the range of anti-lockdown and anti-curfew groups who’ve been opposing the government’s pandemic tactics since last March.
It’s also likely to galvanise opposition to the Rutte coalition in advance of the general election on March 17th.