A Dutch court has ordered the government to end the curfew it imposed last month to rein in the spread of coronavirus, saying the ruling coalition was not entitled to use emergency powers to enforce the restrictive measure.
The government of the Netherlands immediately appealed and asked the court to suspend the order prohibiting the curfew.
A hearing into the request to suspend the order was halted after just a few minutes when a member of the group that sought to overturn the curfew accused the presiding judge of bias.
The full appeal hearing was scheduled for Friday.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte urged the public to continue staying home during the 9pm to 4.30am curfew hours pending the result of the appeal, saying the curfew “is a means, not an end”.
“It is really very important that we limit our social contacts as much as possible because of the risk of transmission of the virus,” he added.
“So please do that. Do it for yourself, but also for each other.”
In a written statement, The Hague District Court called the curfew a “far-reaching violation of the right to freedom of movement and privacy” that also indirectly curtails the rights of freedom of assembly and demonstration.
“This requires a very careful decision-making process,” the court ruled.
Last week, the government extended the curfew into March by using a law allowing it to bypass the usual legislative process in emergencies.
When the curfew was introduced and when it was extended, the government sought and gained support from the majority of legislators during two debates in the lower house of the Dutch parliament.
However, the court said the introduction of the curfew did not require the use of the fast-track process as it had been discussed at length during the coronavirus crisis.
A group called Virus Truth that is deeply sceptical of the government’s approach to slowing the spread of the virus had asked the court to outlaw the curfew, which sparked rioting in the first days of its imposition but is widely adhered to by the vast majority of the country.
In a video interview tweeted by the group, its leader Willem Engel thanked the judge and said: “I’m happy that there is still such a thing as jurisprudence.”
Infections have for weeks been slowly declining in the Netherlands amid a tough lockdown.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases declined over the past two weeks from 24.27 new cases per 100,000 people on February 1 to 20.36 new cases per 100,000 people on February 15.
The country has seen nearly 15,000 confirmed deaths in the pandemic.