Dutch lockdown curfew ruled lawful by appeals court

Month-long row ends with boost for caretaker government weeks before election

Dutch caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte. The appeals court said the curfew was legal, proportionate, and necessary to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Photograph: Sem Van Der Wal/EPA

Dutch caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte. The appeals court said the curfew was legal, proportionate, and necessary to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Photograph: Sem Van Der Wal/EPA

 

At the end of a month-long row that has convulsed Dutch politics, an appeals court has found in favour of the caretaker government, ruling that the overnight curfew it introduced in January was legal, proportionate, and necessary to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision overturns a judgment by a lower court last week in favour of anti-lockdown campaign group Viruswaarheid (Virus Truth), which held that the original legislation was flawed because, despite the virus, there was no existential threat in the sense of “a dyke being breached”.

Friday’s ruling in The Hague took the opposite view, however. The judges said the government had made appropriate use of the Extraordinary Powers of Civil Authority Act, specifically intended for use in emergency situations, when it had introduced the curfew.

Instead, the lower court had “set the bar too high” in terms of seeking justification for the curfew.

“The coronavirus pandemic was sufficient cause,” the appeals judges said in a written decision. “The temporary and limited infringement of various fundamental rights, such as the right to freedom of movement, was therefore justified.”

The ruling is a significant win for prime minister Mark Rutte’s outgoing coalition, which is facing a general election in just a fortnight after it was brought down by a long-running child benefits scandal.

Viruswaarheid’s lawyer, Jeroen Pols, said the appeals court decision was “not unexpected” and was further evidence that “human rights are being pushed aside in an unprecedented way”.

It amounted to “the end of the legal order”, he told reporters.

The good news for Mr Rutte is that, despite the importance of the Viruswaarheid case and the fact that his government was forced to rush replacement curfew legislation through parliament in 48 hours last week, anti-lockdown campaigners don’t have enough support to cause an electoral upset.

An I&O survey of attitudes during lockdown showed this week that three days of anti-curfew riots combined with the high profile of the courts process had led to an increase rather than a reduction in support for the curfew, up from seven out of 10 to eight out of 10.

Even so, new infections remain stubbornly high.

Figures for the 24 hours to Thursday morning showed 5,048 new cases, almost 600 above the weekly average, and the biggest daily increase in a month – lending credence to warnings by the public health institute that a third coronavirus wave may be imminent.