A Dutch court has ordered the government to scrap a nighttime curfew it imposed last month to fight the coronavirus pandemic, saying officials were not entitled to use emergency powers to enforce the restrictive measure.
But in response to Tuesday’s ruling, Prime Minister Mark Rutte urged citizens to continue abiding by the restrictions, telling a televised press conference his government would appeal the decision and that the measure was essential.
The night-time curfew, in place since January 23, was the first to be rolled out in the Netherlands since World War II and in part led to the worst riots seen in the country for decades.
Rutte’s ruling coalition government argued the measure was needed to prevent a surge of new infections, due to more contagious new mutations of the virus.
The curfew was implemented by using emergency powers.
But The Hague-based Dutch Court of Justice sided with anti-lockdown group Viruswaarheid (Virus Truth), which had requested that the restriction be scrapped.
It found that officials had failed to make clear why it was absolutely necessary to use emergency powers, as the infection rate was already dropping when the curfew went into effect.
The court also described the curfew as a “far-reaching violation of the right to freedom of movement and privacy”, saying it indirectly curtails the rights of freedom of assembly and demonstration.
“The curfew is based on a law for emergency situations, where there is no time for debate with parliament,” the court said in its ruling.
“There was no such pressing need in this case. Far-reaching measures such as these need to be based on proper laws.”
The court said the verdict did not automatically mean the curfew would end, as that was for the government to decide.
Dutch news agency ANP said the government, which is currently sitting in a caretaker capacity ahead of elections on March 17, after resigning over a child-benefits scandal, had asked the court to suspend its verdict until its appeal was heard.
The court would decide on this request later on Tuesday.
The curfew, which allows only people with a pressing need to be outdoors between 9pm and 4:30am (20:00 and 03:30 GMT), was extended last week until at least March 3.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry said it would need to study the ruling.
The curfew is part of a lockdown in which bars, restaurants and non-essential stores have been closed for months.
The number of coronavirus infections in the Netherlands has stabilised in recent weeks, after a steady decline so far this year.
The total number of confirmed infections nationwide since the start of the pandemic surpassed one million last week, with almost 15,000 registered COVID-19 deaths.