AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A Dutch court ordered the government on Tuesday to immediately scrap the night-time curfew imposed to fight the coronavirus, ruling that it lacks proper legal basis.
The court order deals a blow to the government's response to the COVID-19 crisis, as it has repeatedly said the measure was needed to prevent a surge of new infections due to more contagious new mutations of the virus.
But the court sided with an anti-lockdown group's request that it be scrapped, finding that the government had failed to make clear why it was absolutely necessary to use emergency powers at this stage of the pandemic, as the infection rate was already dropping when the measure went into effect.
The curfew, which allows only people with a pressing need to be outdoors between 9 p.m. and 4:30 a.m., was extended last week until at least March 3.
"The curfew is based on a law for emergency situations, where there is no time for debate with parliament," the court in The Hague said.
"There was no such pressing need in this case. Far-reaching measures such as these need to be based on proper laws."
The curfew, the first in the Netherlands since World War Two, sparked several days of riots by anti-lockdown protesters when it was introduced on Jan. 23. [nL1N2K00I7]
A spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry said it would need to study the ruling and declined further comment.
Police trade union NPB said the verdict raised questions, such as over the validity of the almost 15,000 fines handed out to people who had ignored the curfew in the past two weeks.
"But we abide by court rulings", NPB chair Jan Struijs told news agency ANP. "We can't ignore it."
The case was brought by anti-corona measures action group Viruswaarheid, which the court says was right in its objection that the curfew was an unwarranted limitation of personal freedom.
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 stabilized in recent weeks, after a steady decline this year.
The total number of confirmed infections since the start of the pandemic surpassed 1 million last week, with almost 15,000 registered COVID-19 deaths.
(Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Gareth Jones and Giles Elgood)