Williams v Claudius  NZDC 5625
Published 06 April 2020
Warrants of commitment — deportation — detention — effect of Epidemic Management Notices — release on conditions — COVID-19 Alert System — pandemic — overseas travel during pandemic — overseas police escorts — arbitrary detention — Immigration Act 2009, part 1, part 9, ss 154, 158, 315, 317, 323, 324, 338, 339 & 341 — Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006, s 8 — Evidence Act 2006, s 50 — New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 — Epidemic Preparedness (Epidemic Management – COVID-19) Notice 2020.
Two respondents, who were both detained under part 2 of the Immigration Act 2009, applied for fresh warrants of commitment that would allow them to be released on conditions. The hearing was subject to the Epidemic Preparedness (Epidemic Management – COVID-19) Notice 2020, which activated provisions of the Immigration Act to deal with the practical effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first respondent was liable for deportation on the grounds of deceiving immigration authorities and failing to disclose convictions. Due to his criminal history and attempts at self-harm he required a police escort during deportation. However before he was able to be deported, the New Zealand police withdrew from escort duties due to the risks of overseas travel during the pandemic. Subsequently a judge issued a 14-day warrant of commitment for the respondent, and the New Zealand government ordered a national lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The applicant immigration officer sought the respondent's continued detention, arguing that this was necessary given his history of noncompliance with the immigration authorities. The respondent had no accommodation and no means of income. The Court found that his continued detention was the only practical option.
The second respondent was liable for deportation for being in the country unlawfully. He also required a police escort during deportation, and had been unable to be deported before the police withdrew from overseas escort duties. The Court found that the respondent should be allowed to apply for a review of his warrant of commitment, as there was now much more information available on the COVID-19 pandemic and the government's respose to it. Given the unavailability of overseas transport, the public interest, and the need to maintain compliance with the Immigration Act, the Court ruled that the second respondent's warrant of commitment be extended. The Court ordered that the Immigration department have to seek renewal of the warrant every 28 days, to ensure that the respondent was not being detained arbitrarily.