While Chris Hipkins apologizes to Charlotte Bellis for comments on her MIQ application, it can be revealed that the government spent nearly $ 43,000 to fight another pregnancy-related MIQ case in court.
The case, involving Auckland woman Roshni Sami, was dropped a few days before it was due to be heard, when MBIE overturned her decision and granted her husband MIQ emergency allocation.
It was one of at least seven similar judicial reviews, and data shows that MBIE spent at least $ 25,000 more on other cases over the next several months.
Sami and her husband Walter Spears were looking to get an MIQ voucher so she could return from the US before she gave birth in December.
Having had no luck in the voucher sweepstakes, he said they requested emergency assignment and were refused.
Sami filed a second urgent assignment application and then took her case to the High Court, asking for a judicial review of the decision.
His lawyer, Tudor Clee, explained that the case was due to be brought to court on October 26. But on October 22, the last business day before he was heard, Sami and Spears received an email saying they’d been granted an emergency assignment.
Sami said it’s unclear why, as the former was rejected and their circumstances haven’t changed.
Data provided to Clee, under the Official Information Act, now shows that MBIE spent $ 42,932.66 to prepare for the hearing.
In her response to Clee, MBIE explained that the matter cost more because it was dealt with urgently.
“If a case needs to be dealt with in an urgent time frame, Crown Law has less chance of having the work done by a lawyer with a lower charge rate. More work ends up being done by a solicitor at higher charge rates. as they must monitor the development of the evidence and arguments more closely to ensure that the best case is referred to the Court. “
However, Sami said the government could have spent thousands of dollars to create a fairer MIQ system that offered pregnant women access to emergency allocation.
“The policy was so poorly written that it could not accommodate pregnancy. The people who implemented it were very disliked and did not understand the risks of pregnancy. An emergency can occur at any time. You need your family,” she She said.
Sami was one of 229 people who applied for the emergency MIQ award between October 2020 and October 2021 and mentioned “pregnancy” as a reason.
By October 2021, only 23 of those applications had been approved.
Many of those rejected sought legal assistance, including 35 couples who were represented by Clee, of whom seven have filed judgments in court.
Clee said four of those who filed were granted emergency assignments immediately before the hearing, like Sami.
Two managed to secure lottery seats during the proceedings, and one ran out of time before the hearing and gave birth alone, prematurely, in a hospital in Australia.
Tudor Clee had also asked for the legal bills for those cases in his OIA request.
One came to a total of $ 3905, while MBIE “kept no separate invoices for the other cases,” he said.
Instead, she provided attorney fees incurred for judicial reviews related to managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) related to pregnancy for the next three months, totaling an additional $ 21,878.
Today, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins apologized for the comments he made on the case of reporter Charlotte Bellis and said her MIQ application was disabled by mistake.
Sami said the apology had to go much further.
“My experience and the experience of all the women who have gone through this is that we have been deeply ignored. We have never had a substantive response to the complaints we have made or the issues I have raised,” she said.
“And it’s not just us. All the families who really suffered, the people who lost their life savings, the people who were practically turned into refugees in other countries because they couldn’t extend their visas … all of those people need an apology. “
When asked how the $ 43,000 cost was justified, MBIE provided a written answer. He said: “When proceedings are initiated, the Crown takes the measures deemed necessary to defend the decision”.
MIQ chief Andy Milne reiterated that it had been addressed in an urgent time frame and that usually meant higher charge rates.
“Ms Sami’s request that her application for interim relief dated Monday 18 October be dealt with urgently, led the High Court to deal with the application at a case management conference on Wednesday 20 October and to schedule a hearing on the application. Tuesday 26 October; with the evidence and observations of Ms. Sami to be filed by Friday 22 October and those of the Crown by Monday 24 October (Labor Day) “, he said.
“On October 24, the Court and the Crown were informed that Mr. Spears had returned to New Zealand; but Ms. Sami nonetheless requested a hearing on Tuesday, October 26. In response, the Crown submitted a question and supporting evidence seeking to close the proceeding as the requested relief had been obtained, so the proceeding was questionable and had no use “.
He said Spears had previously applied for emergency assignment using category 2a “to return urgently to New Zealand to provide critical care to a dependent.”
“His application was rejected because the delegated decision makers did not believe that, with the information he provided, he met the criteria for an urgent trip to provide critical care to his wife – Ms. Spears is in New Zealand and has access to care. if your pregnancy requires urgent medical attention. “
Milne said previously rejected candidates could be approved if they provided further evidence to support their claim – and this had happened with Spears.
“That question was considered by the MBIE decision maker on October 22; it was determined that with this additional information, Mr. Spears has now reached the threshold for approval. Mr. Spears was informed the same day that he had been manually assigned a voucher for MIQ. On October 24 the Court and the Crown were informed that Mr. Spears had returned to New Zealand. “