Guernsey’s top pandemic medic has won in a legal battle launched by her predecessor, who claimed he had been “detained” by “spurious” quarantine requirements in a breach of his human rights.
Dr Stephen Bridgman, who was Guernsey's Medical Officer of Health and Director of Public Health between 2008 and 2017, this week started legal action against Dr Nicola Brink and the island’s emergency decision-making authority.
Under Guernsey’s current border rules, which categorise jurisdictions from 1 to 4 based on risk, he has to isolate for at least 14 days, despite being fully vaccinated.
That’s because he received both doses of the vaccine in New Zealand – outside of the Common Travel Area. He also passed through London (Category 4) on his way back from New Zealand (Category 2) to Guernsey.
Dr Bridgman applied for a variation of his isolation requirements asking for a compassionate variation to his requirements as a critical worker (in New Zealand) who had limited leave to travel, but this was refused by Dr Nicola Brink.
His Royal Court legal battle against Dr Brink and the Civil Contingencies Authority opened earlier this week, with the doctor representing himself via Microsoft Teams from quarantine.
Pictured: Guernsey's Royal Court.
"I argue that the risk I pose to the Guernsey public is low, when tens of million of people in the CTA who are not Guernsey residents have that right [to travel here without isolating],” he said.
"Requiring me to self-isolate for 14 days is not necessary to control the spread of the infectious disease covid-19. It is not going to achieve that objective, for which lawful detention is required."
Dr Brink attempted to rubbish this argument, telling Court: "Saying it is 'very low risk' is probably not entirely accurate. Dr Bridgman has transited through four international transport hubs, one of which is Singapore. Surrounding areas have seen the emergence of variants of concerns and variants under investigation."
”That makes this situation more unstable, as you have mixing of people through all sorts of different areas."
She later added: "I cannot discount legislation for one person and enforce it for another person. That would not be fair and equitable.
"Every risk we take for an individual, we have to consider the risk we are taking for our population as a whole. That is a role of great responsibility and it is one that has to be undertaken with great diligence."
Pictured: Dr Brink said every risk taken had to be considered with the whole Guernsey community in mind.
On the vaccination issue, Dr Brink said that she does not have any international standard to refer to and therefore had no way of assessing the validity of Dr Bridgman's passport or any other from a non-CTA country. This is currently being worked on, but is not imminent.
She also objected to the way he had described his quarantine, saying: "I don’t think you can use the word ‘detained’. You came here voluntarily."
Yesterday, Dr Bridgman – now on Day 13 of isolation – acknowledged that the outcome of his legal challenge would make very little difference to him personally.
However, he said he was contesting the wider regulations and their application by Dr Brink in her statutory role as Medical Officer of Health "in the public interest".
"I have been motivated to challenge, in a democratic society, what I see as an arbitrary and disproportionate restriction in the name of public health that deprives me and many others of our liberty as healthy and fully-immunised individuals.
"I have been encouraged by some local people to make this argument in the public interest. I want to ensure that any future request for isolation also includes a public health risk assessment in that case.
He added: "If this had come to me when I was in Dr Brink’s position, I may have come to a different view about how this should be approached."
He evoked Article 5 of Guernsey’s Human Rights Law, noting that its “key purpose… is to prevent arbitrary or unjustified deprivation of liberties.”
Pictured: Dr Bridgman argued against the isolation requirements on the basis of this section of Guernsey's Human Rights Law.
He continued: “Liberty should be the general rule and deprivation the exception.
"The detention of an individual is such a serious matter that it is only justified where other, less severe measures have been found to be insufficient to protect the public or the individual concerned."
Concluding his submissions yesterday, he said: "My detention was not necessary, justified or proportional for the purposes of preventing the spread of infectious diseases. In this instance my detention from a human rights laws lens is unlawful."
The hearing closed at 17:00 and Judge Catherine Fooks said she would consider the case overnight, returning today with a summary judgment. In the end, the Court ruled in favour of Public Health Director Dr Nicola Brink and the Civil Contingencies Authority.
Following the result, Dr Bridgman said: "My objective in bringing this case was to highlight that the original reason given by the Medical Officer of Health to my request for a variation, which was denied, was not because I presented an infection risk to other Guernsey residents greater than locally vaccinated people, but because vaccinations administered outside the CTA (Common Travel Area) were not being verified, solely an administrative decision."
He added: "I have been contacted by other Guernsey residents who work abroad and have been vaccinated overseas but are not able to visit elderly and sick relatives and are worried that Guernsey is not accepting certification from outside the CTA which, as previously stated, is solely due to administrative issues. I believed bringing this case would be in the public interest, and I hope it might help Guernsey residents in the future."
A full written judgment will be delivered at a later date.
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