Dutch Curfew Debated in Court as Lawmakers Push to Enshrine It

An appeal over a temporary curfew struck down just days before was heard Friday as the Dutch Senate debated legislation to preserve the nightly stay-at-home order.

The leader of the coronavirus-skeptical group Viruswaarheid, or Virustruth, Willem Engel, and the group’s legal advisor, Jeroen Pols, left, enter court for an appeal hearing on the Dutch government’s curfew in The Hague, Netherlands, on Friday. (AP Photo/Mike Corder)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Judges in The Hague heard an appeal Friday over the Netherlands’ nationwide curfew after a lower court struck down the coronavirus restriction just days before.

While The Hague Court of Appeal was listening to arguments between the government and an anti-lockdown activist group known as Viruswaarheid – Dutch for Virustruth – the Dutch Senate was debating legislation to enshrine the nightly stay-at-home order into law. 

“Just before the introduction of the curfew, the water was splashing against the dike,” attorney Reimer Veldhuis told the three-judge panel on behalf of the Dutch government, using a metaphor that has run throughout the contentious case. 

When the Dutch government instituted the 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. curfew in January, it did so under the country’s Extraordinary Powers of Civil Authority Act, which allows ministers to quickly implement measures during emergency situations. 

On Monday, a judge found the restriction did not need to be implemented on an emergency basis, in part because the country’s parliament debated the rule for a full day before it was implemented.

“After all, the law is only intended for situations that literally cannot tolerate any delay, because there is an acute emergency. This could include an unexpected dike breach, for example,” Judge Sonja Hoekstra-Van Vliet wrote. 

Viruswaarheid co-founder, lawyer and brothel owner Jeroen Pols echoed that view.

“Do we think the rule of law is worth preserving for our children? Do we accept measures that threaten the happiness and livelihood of millions of Dutch people?” he said.  

Pols and dance instructor Willem Engel have brought more than 10 cases against the government for imposing restrictions to curb the Covid-19 outbreak. 

During Friday’s emergency appeal hearing, Viruswaarheid’s lawyer Gerben van de Corput argued that the effectiveness of the curfew cannot be proven, as it was put into place with other measures, and cannot be justified as an emergency restriction.

The government just announced an extension of the curfew until March 3. Nonessential stores in the country have been shut since December and households are limited to one visitor per day. 

Following Monday’s ruling, the government requested an emergency stay to allow the curfew to continue until the case could be heard by an appeals court. The court held a hearing on Tuesday, where Pols accused the judges of bias and demanded they recuse themselves after Presiding Judge Marie-Anne Tan-de Sonnaville mistakenly referred to the group as Viruswaanzin ­– or Virus Madness, the group’s former name.

A separate panel of judges decided she was not biased and allowed the proceeding to continue. The ruling that the curfew could remain in place until Friday’s hearing was finally issued at 8:40 p.m., a mere 20 minutes before the streets should be empty. Around 25,000 fines of 95 euros ($115) have been handed out since the measure went into effect. 

It was initially expected that the appeals court would rule Friday, possibly resulting in another eleventh-hour decision, but Tan-de Sonnaville said at the end of the hearing that the court would announce its decision on Feb. 26, leaving the curfew in place until then.

“This is a strange state of affairs,” Engel said of the decision. 

“Nothing in this world is ideal,” Tan-de Sonnaville replied. 

On Thursday evening, the Dutch House of Representatives gave its approval to the curfew, voting 115-34 to send legislation preserving it to the Senate.

“We prefer to go to bed at 9 p.m., rather than have the schools closed,” member of parliament Chris van Dam of the Christian Democrats said during the debate.

Voting in the Senate is not expected to start until 7:15 p.m. local time Friday but the governing coalition appears to have enough seats to pass the new legislation. 

Some 15,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the Netherlands and the country has been slow to vaccinate. It was the last country in Europe to start administering vaccines in January and has only vaccinated some 600,000 people. 

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