A New Zealand magistrate ruled that the government’s Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine mandates for military and law enforcement personnel are unlawful.

In a 40-page decision, Justice Francis Cooke of the High Court of New Zealand ruled on Feb. 25 that the order requiring members of the New Zealand Police (NZP) and New Zealand Defense Forces (NZDF) to get the COVID-19 vaccine infringed on individual rights. He also pointed out that the mandate failed to “materially advance” its stated objective of guaranteeing continuity of government services.

The order issued by Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood in December 2021 said any NZP and NZDF member who has not received two COVID-19 vaccine doses by March 1 would lose their jobs. However, three employees who objected to the vaccination challenged the mandate in court. Thirty-seven other employees who were in the same predicament as the first three filed sworn affidavits in support.

Cooke wrote in his Feb. 25 decision that the vaccine mandate violated the New Zealand Bill of Rights, citing two instances to back up his argument. First, forcing the vaccine – despite objections to the shots’ use of and testing on cells derived from human fetuses – involves “a limitation on the manifestation of a religious belief.” The Bill of Rights guarantees the right of individuals to manifest their religious beliefs “in worship, observance, practice or teaching.”

Second, the Bill of Rights declares that “everyone has the right to refuse to undergo any medical treatment.” However, Cooke contended that Wood’s mandate infringed on other recognized rights, such as the right to retain employment. 

“In essence, the order mandating vaccinations for NZP and NZDF staff was imposed to ensure the continuity of the public services and to promote public confidence in [them] – rather than to stop the spread of COVID-19. I am not satisfied that continuity of these services is materially advanced by the order,” the magistrate penned.

Terminations suspended, reinstatement of workers urged

Attorney Matthew Hague, counsel for the plaintiffs, said the affected NZP and NZDF staff members must be allowed to work. The plaintiffs are currently suspended as of writing – with those from the NZDF set to be dismissed on March 1 and those from the NZP to be dismissed on March 7.

“In my view, they should immediately be able to return to work. They asked the court to rule that the order was unlawful, which the court has now done. What that means is that the notice of dismissal that has been given to NZP and NZDF workers is now no longer in effect,” said Hague.

New Zealand Police Association (NZPA) President Chris Cahill agreed with Hague’s remarks. He said in a statement: “The court has now clarified the legal status of the NZP mandate and deemed it to be unlawful. The [NZPA] therefore calls for all officers affected by this decision to be reinstated and returned to work as soon as possible.”

Spokespersons for the NZP and NZDF said on Feb. 25 that following Cooke’s ruling, terminations of staff members as a result of the vaccine mandate will be suspended. “As the judicial decision has only just been released, we will be taking time to consider the decision. We will be communicating with staff about [the] next steps. In the meantime, terminations of employment will not proceed at this time,” they said.

Meanwhile, Wood released a statement about the decision, saying that the government will take time to consider the ruling and seek advice on the next steps to take. “The requests for vaccination mandates originally came from NZP and NZDF, so before making any decision – we will go back to them to assess the implications for their operations. No terminations will proceed at this time; affected staff [members] are being advised,” the minister’s statement read.

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