Tuesday 27 July 2021
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Dr Brink makes staunch defence to legal challenge

Dr Brink makes staunch defence to legal challenge

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Dr Brink makes staunch defence to legal challenge


The Director of Public Health has hit back at her predecessor's claims that he has been "detained" by "spurious" isolation requirements, saying that Dr Stephen Bridgman did not check the rules, gambled on getting an exemption, and was not as "low risk" as he believed himself to be.

Dr Nicola Brink and the Civil Contingencies Authority are being actioned by the former States Medical Officer of Health, who believes he was "arbitrarily" required to self-isolate for 14 days after returning to the island from New Zealand (Category 2) via London Heathrow and London Gatwick (both Category 4).

Dr Bridgman was double-dosed with the Pfizer vaccine in New Zealand and believed, having read a States press release intended for 'blue arrivals' in July, that he could return to Guernsey without any need to isolate. 

His daughter was flying back to Guernsey from New Zealand on 7 July - three days before her father - when she flagged the isolation misunderstanding to him. Dr Bridgman was in transit at Singapore Airport at the time and emailed the States asking for a variation to his requirements on the morning of 9 July. It was rejected that same day. 

Having arrived in Guernsey on 10 July, Dr Bridgman was directed by border agents into 14-day isolation. On 12 July and 13 July, he shared an email exchange with Dr Brink, asking for a compassionate variation to his requirements as a critical worker (in New Zealand) who had limited leave to travel. 

new_zealand.jpg

Pictured: Dr Bridgman considers himself a Guernsey resident, but has been been living and working in New Zealand since the end of 2017. Prior to the pandemic, he said he came back to the island "two to three times" a year to see his family. 

He argued that he should not be, in his words, "detained" because he was fully vaccinated, posed "a lower risk" than people in the UK travelling from Category 4 regions, wanted to visit unwell relatives in the UK and Jersey, and that self-isolation was "stressful".

He cited the Bailiwick's Human Rights Law 2000, which is woven into the emergency corona virus regulations. Dr Brink expressed her sympathies, but rejected Dr Bridgman's application. He subsequently filed a legal challenge on 14 July.  

Giving his opening statement, Dr Bridgman said to the Court: "In my individual case, I was no higher a public health risk, probably lower, than tens of millions of [fully-vaccinated] people across the UK who have freedom of movement without the requirement to isolate."

In cross-examination, Advocate Penny Grainge questioned why an experienced health official would base his "understanding" on a press release instead of contacting officials or consulting the regulations ahead of travelling.

Dr Bridgman had learnt from his daughter that they would have to isolate, but chose to travel anyway, she asserted, gambling on the possibility of securing a variation. 

"You chose to come to the island knowing you would been required to self-isolate," said Advocate Grainge. "Surely a reasonable person would not have banked on a variation being granted? You basically took a calculated risk. A reasonable person would have double checked."

Dr Bridgman accepted: "It was theoretically possible to have cancelled my flight. I just thought it was too late at that point. It was a calculated risk. Based on the evidence at an individual case level, there was not a good reason for me to have to self-isolate."

Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law: 

  1. (e)  the lawful detention of persons for the prevention of the spreading of infectious diseases 

Dr Bridgman argued against the isolation requirements on the basis of this section of Guernsey's Human Rights Law.

Dr Brink responded to this argument, saying that Dr Bridgman was asserting claims that he was not in a position to evidence. 

"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."

This included the public coach that Dr Bridgman used to travel between Heathrow and Gatwick. It was raised in defence of Dr Brink and the CCA that any special rights afforded to Dr Bridgman on the basis of merely passing through Heathrow and/or Gatwick was forfeited the moment he used public transport to travel through London, a Category 4 region. 

Meanwhile, Dr Bridgman could not lay claim to be a 'blue' traveller, as he had come from outside of the Common Travel Area.

"I cannot discount legislation for one person and enforce it for another person," said Dr Brink. "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."

"Every variation we grant and every risk we take, we do so on behalf of our community."

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Pictured: The Royal Court heard that St James' Chambers challenges the CCA's decisions to renew emergency regulations every 30 days. Senior Advisor to the CCA Mark De Garis said this applies due scrutiny to the lawfulness of the regulations. 

Dr Brink continued: "Very early on in the pandemic it was recognised that not all people’s circumstances and needs are always going to be compatible."

Referencing the causes of his legal challenge, Dr Bridgman had been allowed to go out on a "small number" of walks by himself to address the difficulty of self-isolation, while he did not provide evidence of having unwell relatives to visit in is application. 

On the vaccination issue, Dr Brink said that she does not have any international standard to refer to and therefore has 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 contested that the definition of a 'blue' traveller was, by law, clear and unambiguous. 

Dr Brink also objected to Dr Bridgman's comment that he was being "detained" in his home because of the regulations, referring back to the choice he had made to travel despite the uncertainty over his arrangements upon arrival.

"I don’t think you can use the word detained," said Dr Brink. "You came here voluntarily."

The hearing continues this morning and is expected to reach a conclusion later today. 

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