Victorian COVID curfew challenge dismissed

Georgie Moore
·2-min read

The COVID-19 curfew that confined millions of Melburnians to their homes each night was legal and proportionate, a judge says.

Mornington Peninsula cafe owner and aspiring Liberal MP Michelle Loielo took the curfew to Victoria's Supreme Court, arguing it breached her human rights.

Metropolitan Melbourne was slapped with the 8pm until 5am curfew in August as part of a suite of measures aimed at combating the state's second virus wave.

Justice Tim Ginnane on Monday found the curfew did restrict human rights. But he found the restrictions legal and proportionate to public health.

"The curfew was a major restriction of human rights and liberties of the free people of Victoria. No instance of a curfew being imposed in Victoria by the executive exists in living memory," the judge said.

"Even in an emergency, Victoria is a society of laws and any executive decrees must be made in accordance with law."

Ultimately, he ruled "the limitation of, and restrictions on, human rights caused by the curfew were, at least in the case of the plaintiff (Ms Loielo), proportionate to the purpose of protecting public health".

The 8pm until 5am curfew was introduced in August, before being pushed back until 9pm and then scrapped altogether before the trial over its legality.

Ms Loielo brought her case against Associate Professor Michelle Giles, the deputy public health commander responsible for signing off on emergency powers.

Justice Ginnane rejected the suggestion Prof Giles' decision was not an independent one and only approved at the behest of Premier Daniel Andrews.

However, the judge noted it was uncertain who decided to introduce the curfew in the first instance, and on what basis the decision was made.

"Human rights are of importance even in urgent or emergency situations, if governments and executives can disregard them, they are not rights of any real value," he said.

Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services said it welcomed the ruling.

"The department stands by the directions that were put in place and will continue to make decisions based on how to best protect Victorians from coronavirus," it said.

Ms Loielo described herself as a "proud Liberal supporter" as she spoke about the decision alongside Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien.

"The curfew was lifted five hours before we stepped into the court, so we won before we walked in," she said.

"It had an effect on my personal life, and it also had an effect on my business. When our business was closed people did not, obviously, leave their homes, they were not allowed to."

The curfew provided exemptions for work, medical care and care giving.

Mr O'Brien said Ms Loielo "deserves the thanks of every Melburnian who feels trampled on, who feels they haven't been listened to".