After hours of deliberation, technical issues and arguments on both sides, Judge Anthony Kelly ordered Djokovic’s release from a hotel remand center and his property returned to him within 30 minutes of Monday.
Justice Kelly also ordered the respondent in the case – the Australian Home Office – to pay Djokovic’s legal costs.
Following the ruling, a government lawyer said Australia’s Immigration Minister reserved the right to intervene personally in the case. Christopher Tran, acting on behalf of the government, said Minister Alex Hawke retains ministerial authority to remove Djokovic from the country, despite the decision.
The decision, made via video link to the Australian Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne, comes after days of speculation and public anger over whether the tennis star would be able to play at the Australian Open, though. that she has not been vaccinated for Covid-19.
Faced with the expulsion and his hopes of winning an endangered 21st Grand Slam record, Djokovic has launched legal action.
During the hearing, Djokovic’s legal team argued that he had obtained the required medical exemption to travel to Australia and bypass vaccination restrictions for Covid-19. The exemption was granted on the grounds that Djokovic had natural immunity after being infected with Covid-19 in December, his defense argued.
Djokovic, who has already expressed his opposition to Covid-19 vaccines and vaccination warrants, was not vaccinated when he arrived in Australia. In his ruling, the judge noted that had Djokovic been deported he would have been banned from Australia for three years.
The case has gained worldwide attention and angered supporters and critics alike, with some claiming his case shows celebrities are getting special treatment when it comes to the strict rules of Covid-19 in Australia, who have seen families separated for years, and others who believe coronavirus restrictions infringe on their civil liberties.
The arguments of the defense and the government mainly centered on guidelines issued by a federal government advisory group called the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI).
Nick Wood, senior lawyer representing Djokovic, argued that ATAGI’s opinion stated that a past infection with Covid offers at least six months of natural protection – “and therefore can be considered a temporary exemption from vaccination.”
He said Djokovic understood that the government had given him permission to come to Australia and made repeated appeals to federal agents in Melbourne to tell him “that he had done absolutely everything he believed was necessary to ensure that ‘he enters Australia “.
“Any reasonable person would understand, and he understood, that he ticked absolutely all of the boxes,” added Wood.
Lawyers for Australian Home Secretary Karen Andrews have defended Australian border forces’ decision to deport Djokovic, arguing the tennis star has provided no medical reason why he could not be vaccinated against Covid -19.
The government said Djokovic was mistaken in thinking he was guaranteed to enter and that a previous Covid infection did not amount to a valid medical reason why he could not be vaccinated.
They pointed to the same ATAGI guidelines, which say that despite recognition of natural protection, past infection “is not a contraindication to vaccination” – meaning that is not a valid reason for someone is not getting the vaccine.
The government also argued that although these guidelines suggest that people can temporarily postpone their immunizations after acute illness, “there was no suggestion that Djokovic was seriously ill.”
“All he said was he tested positive for Covid-19. It’s not the same,” the government said in its brief to the court.
Tran, the government’s lawyer, said authorities were unlikely to cancel visas and even the possibility of a risk to Australians’ health was reason enough.
Judge Anthony Kelly, however, appeared to acknowledge Djokovic’s position, saying he was “agitated” by the burden placed on the tennis star to provide evidence to officials.
Djokovic had recorded a Covid-19 infection in December – which two independent panels agreed was reason enough to delay Djokovic’s need for the vaccine.
“What more could this man have done?” said Judge Kelly.
Why Djokovic plays at the Australian Open
The visa debacle had threatened Djokovic’s chances of winning a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open, which begins in Melbourne on January 17.
Djokovic currently holds 20 Grand Slam wins, tying the all-time record with Spanish tennis greats Rafael Nadal and Switzerland’s Roger Federer.
A victory in Melbourne would mean Djokovic breaks the record for most Grand Slam tournaments ever held by a man.
That’s a very real possibility – Djokovic has won the Australian Open nine times already.
Federer, 40, does not play in Melbourne and while Nadal, 35, is ready to play he has been plagued by injuries.
The pair have faced each other 58 times, with Djokovic in the lead with 30 wins to 28. Nadal, who won an Australian Open in 2009, is ranked No.6 in the world.
CNN’s Hilary Whiteman, Hannah Ritchie and Angus Watson contributed reporting.