“But Police Commissioner Andy Coster was back within minutes. We said, ‘We can Zoom you in’, but he said, ‘I want to wander down’,” says Dean.

“The ability to get people to come and talk about judgments, whether they are ministers, officials, or MPs, is amazing.

“I think those people engaged at the coalface of COVID-19 have welcomed the opportunity to step back slightly and reflect on the process. Because what’s clear is they have been doing this on gas fumes; they have been working so late and there has been so much thrown at them.”

Throughout the pandemic, Dean and colleagues Professor Geoff McLay, Professor Claudia Geiringer, Dr Eddie Clark, and Associate Professor Nessa Lynch have been familiar figures in the media, helping New Zealanders understand the important legal questions raised by the Government’s actions, including those ruled on in a High Court judicial review of the legality of lockdown.

The Faculty also hosted a popular series of webinars, The legal low-down on the lockdown.

“A lot of the work we did during the lockdown was explanatory, not just ‘critic and conscience’, whether it’s RNZ, whether it’s talking to journalists wanting to understand, whether it’s background, whether it’s full comment on how it’s all working,” says Dean. “This has been an incredibly unknown and unprecedented style of emergency. Half the challenge has been understanding how the cogs and the levels all work together.”

An early prompt for Geoff was that “nobody in government actually talked about what the law was for the first three days of their response. Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield didn’t say, ‘I have issued an order under section 70 of the Health Act’.”

In terms of some of the messaging, that first week still looks “pretty messy” to Geoff. “Clearly, the Prime Minister did state there were things people couldn’t do, even though there was no law against them, including the instruction to stay home, and that’s what the High Court later found.”


There were also overreaches in implementation, he says. “The example I always use is the swimming ban. There was nothing initially that stopped people going swimming or surfing, but there were policemen talking to these surfers in photos in the paper.”

Geoff, Dean, and colleagues in their own faculty and in other law schools around the country can take credit for being part of the momentum that led to the Government refining its legal approach over time.

“I think we are trusted analysts and commentators and what we say is taken seriously by those in government,” says Dean.

It was also important to explain to the public why these issues matter, he says.

“It’s easy to say, ‘that’s just pointy-headed lawyers’, but the rule of law is one of the bits of glue that keeps our democracy together.”

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