An Australian judge has reinstated tennis star Novak Djokovic’s visa and ruled that he be released from five days of immigration detention.
Judge Anthony Kelly ordered on Monday that Djokovic be released within 30 minutes and his passport and other travel documents returned to him, rekindling the world number one’s chance to win a record 21st Grand Slam title at the upcoming Australian Open.
However, lawyers for the federal government told the court the country’s immigration minister was reserving the right to exercise his personal power to again revoke Djokovic’s visa.
That would mean Djokovic, 34, could again face deportation and could miss the Australian Open, which starts on January 17.
The Serbian has been held at a notorious immigration detention hotel alongside long-term asylum seeker detainees since Thursday.
The Australian government cancelled Djokovic’s visa shortly after he arrived in Melbourne late on Wednesday to play in the Australian Open because officials decided he did not meet the criteria for an exemption to an entry requirement that all non-citizens be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
Djokovic, who court documents say is unvaccinated, argued he did not need proof of vaccination because he had evidence that he was infected with the coronavirus last month.
Australian medical authorities have ruled that a temporary exemption for the vaccination rule can be provided to people who have been infected with COVID-19 within six months.
Judge Kelly noted that Djokovic had provided officials at Melbourne’s airport with a medical exemption given him by Tennis Australia, which is organising the tournament, and two medical panels.
“The point I’m somewhat agitated about is what more could this man have done?” Kelly asked Djokovic’s lawyer, Nick Wood.
Wood agreed with the judge that Djokovic could not have done more.
Transcripts of Djokovic’s interview with Border Force officials and his own affidavit revealed a “repeated appeal to the officers with which he was dealing that to his understanding, uncontradicted, he had done absolutely everything that he understood was required in order for him to enter Australia,” Wood said.
Djokovic has been under guard in hotel quarantine in Melbourne when his visa was cancelled.
But the judge ordered that the world’s top-ranked male tennis player be released from hotel quarantine during his court hearing.
It was not clear where Djokovic relocated to during his hearing. He did not appear on screen in the first hours of the virtual hearing.
Djokovic’s lawyers submitted 11 grounds for appeal against his visa cancellation. The lawyers described the cancellation as “seriously illogical,” irrational and legally unreasonable.
Lawyers for Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said in their submission that if the judge ruled in Djokovic’s favour, officials might cancel his visa a second time.
They said the vaccination requirement could only be deferred for arriving travellers who have had a COVID-19 infection if their illness was acute.
“There is no suggestion that the applicant (Djokovic) had ‘acute major medical illness’ in December” when he tested positive, the written submission said.
The virtual hearing crashed several times because of an overwhelming number of people from around the world trying to watch the proceedings.
Djokovic is a nine-time Australian Open champion. He has 20 Grand Slam singles titles, a men’s record he shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.