National / ACT

COVID-19, coercive government action, and the absence of judicial intervention, an online seminar with Jason Harkness

COVID-19, coercive government action, and the absence of judicial intervention: Reflections on the rule of law during a once-in-a-lifetime crisis

Presenter: Dr Jason Harkess

During the COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world imposed draconian measures on their citizens to control the spread of the virus. These included lockdowns,mandatory mask-wearing, business closures, travel  restrictions, and vaccination mandates. The measures imposed in Australia were amongst those considered to be the harshest in the world. Individuals and businesses suffered significantly.

Government action of this kind was unprecedented in Australia. The severe restriction of individual liberties that the public health measures represented would ordinarily have been considered intolerable in a free and  democratic society. For that reason, they were arguably unlawful. However, of all the serious court challenges that were brought to challenge the lawfulness of government action in Australia, none were successful. The courts declined to interfere with any of the government measures imposed. Arguments that government decision-makers had exceeded the legal limits of their powers were all categorically rejected by the courts.

In this seminar, Dr Jason Harkess reflects upon three of those unsuccessful court challenges. In Loeilo v Giles (2020) 63 VR 1, the plaintiff failed in her attempt to challenge a curfew that had been imposed on millions of Victorians by a senior public health official. In Kassam v Hazzard; Henry v Hazzard (2021) 106 NSWLR 520, several New South Wales residents were unsuccessful in their attempt at challenging COVID-19 vaccine mandates imposed by the New South Wales government. And in Djokovic v Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs (2022) 289 FCR 21, a top tennis player was unsuccessful in his challenge to the Commonwealth government’s decisions to cancel his visa and order his deportation from Australia on the basis of his anti-vaccination sentiment. Dr Harkess poses the ultimate question, ‘What effect do these decisions have on our understanding of the practical limitations of the rule of law in a time of major social crisis?’

About the Presenter
Dr Jason Harkess is a barrister practising in administrative and criminal law. He advises and appears regularly as counsel in judicial review applications. He appeared as junior counsel for the plaintiffs in Loielo v Giles and
Henry v Hazzard. From 2018 to 2022, he served as a part-time member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and determined over 900 appeals brought against the Commonwealth by foreign citizens whose visas had been
refused or cancelled under the Migration Act 1958 (Cth). In 2021, he was a Detention Review Officer appointed by the Victorian state government under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic) to determine appeals
brought by individuals detained in hotel quarantine as part of the Victorian state government’s COVID-19 pandemic response. He lectures administrative law at Monash University and is the current Treasurer of the
Australian Institute of Administrative Law (Victorian Chapter).

Covid-19 – Reflections on Rule of Law – Seminar Information for Circulating

Date:          Thursday 25 May 2023

Venue:       Online via Zoom

Time:          1:00 pm AEST (12:30pm SA: 11:00am WA)

Cost:          Admission is free for AIAL Members (with Promo Code) and $25 for Non AIAL Members

Please book via the TryBooking link below:

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This presentation qualifies for one CPD unit for solicitors and barristers.

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