Lockdown by Press Conference? COVID-19 and the Rule of Law in New Zealand and Austria

In response to COVID-19, New Zealand and Austria both imposed lockdowns in early 2020. We compare the two countries’ responses and judicial review systems to examine how the lockdowns were communicated and challenged in the courts. The communication of these lockdowns was remarkably similar, as both governments communicated measures more stringent than those legally in place at the time. This divide between law and communication raised concerns for the rule of law as citizens struggled to understand their legal obligations during the crisis. In New Zealand, misleading government communications about the lockdown were successfully challenged as unlawful, while in Austria, government communications were not subject to judicial review. We conclude that systems capable of reviewing government miscommunication can better uphold the rule of law in the face of crisis.