Dutch Appeals Court Upholds Coronavirus-Minded Curfew

Friday’s emergency ruling was one of the most-watched judicial events in the Netherlands, with more than 20,000 people watching a live stream of the hearing. 

Demonstrators hold umbrellas reading “Freedom” and “Love” in Amsterdam on Sunday as several hundreds protest against the coronavirus lockdown and curfew. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — A Dutch appeals court has upheld a national curfew, saying the government is within its right to enforce a stay-at-home order between 9 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. under legislation designed for emergencies. 

“In the opinion of the Court of Appeal, it is absolutely clear that these are extraordinary circumstances,” the three-judge panel for the Hague Court of Appeal wrote Friday. “The Netherlands has been dealing with a pandemic for nearly a year. The virus has spread all over the world and has caused large numbers of fatalities, including in the Netherlands.”

Virus Waarheid (which translates to Virus Truth) filed the lawsuit over the nighttime restrictions and said it will appeal. “Human rights are being ignored in an unprecedented way,” the group’s co-founder Jeroeon Pols said in a press conference. 

Prime Minister Mark Rutte issued the curfew, or avondklok in Dutch, under the Extraordinary Powers of Civil Authority Act in January. The law allows ministers to quickly implement measures during emergency situations, but the Hague District Court struck down the curfew on movement in a surprising move last week.

Noting that the country’s parliament had debated the rule for a full day, the court questioned the justification for implementing the restriction on an emergency basis.

That decision, released in the morning, would have lifted the curfew the same day. An emergency hearing stayed the removal of the measure until an emergency appeal could be held last Friday. Simultaneously, the government moved forward with legislation that would permit the curfew to continue via another legal route. 

“The Court of Appeal rejects Virus Waarheid‘s argument that the [Extraordinary Powers of Civil Authority Act] is only intended for situations that literally cannot tolerate any postponement, because they are acute emergency situations, such as an unexpected dike breach. Formulating the bar in this way is too high,” the court wrote. 

The decision has no practical implications, as the Legislature passed a separate law last week allowing the curfew to continue. Had Friday’s decision gone the other way, some 33,000 fines of 95 euros ($115) for violating the rules might have been tossed out. 

“I would have been very sorry if I had to tell [the police] that they handed out the fines for nothing,” Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus told reporters after the verdict. 

Facing one of the worst outbreaks in Europe, with cases still on the rise, the Netherlands has seen over a million confirmed infections and 15,000 deaths from Covid-19.

The Dutch government implemented the first curfew since the World War II on January 23 in an effort to curb rising infection rates as the country struggles to vaccinate. Vaccine role out in the European Union has been frustratingly slow, in part because of production issues. Protests against the curfew turned violent in the first few days of its implementation, but the government estimates that more than 95% of people adhere to the rules. 

Complaints about virus restrictions, including the curfew, have increased in recent weeks. A survey from the National Institute for Public Health released on Friday found that less than half of the public agrees with the current restrictions, which include the shutting of bars and restaurants, a limitation to one person in your home per day and mandatory mask-wearing. 

The Dutch public prosecution service announced on Friday that they will investigate the far-right politician Thierry Baudet for holding campaign rallies where he shook hands with supporters, flouting rules to stay two arms’ lengths apart. National elections will be held on March 17. His party, Forum for Democracy, has been highly critical of the government’s Covid-19 response.

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