After hours of deliberation, technical glitches and arguments from both sides, Judge Anthony Kelly ordered Djokovic’s release from a temporary hotel detention facility and the return of his property within 30 minutes of Monday’s ruling.
Judge Kelly also ordered the defendant in the case – the Australian Department of Home Affairs – to pay Djokovic’s legal costs.
Following the decision, the government’s lawyer said Australia’s immigration minister reserves the right to personally intervene 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 ruling.
After the session, Djokovic wrote on Twitter that he was “delighted and grateful” for the result. He said that “despite everything that has happened” he wants to stay in the country “to try to compete” at the Australian Open. He also thanked his supporters for standing with him and encouraging them to “stay strong”. He tweeted a picture of himself and his coaching staff apparently at a stadium in Melbourne.
At a press conference in Belgrade, Serbia, his brother thanked his supporters. “Everything is finally complete and Novak is free in the end. Novak was on the tennis court a little earlier and he trained a little and that’s how he fights for himself – he plays tennis,” Djordji Djokovic told the press conference. .
He added that “Novak did nothing wrong,” expressing his happiness that “the Australian legal system has been applied for Novak.”
However, Djurji cut the press conference short when asked about Djokovic’s positive test for the Covid virus on December 16 and his whereabouts in the following days.
Djurji confirmed that Djokovic tested positive, and when a reporter asked if he was at an event on December 17, he stuttered and replied: “This press conference has been postponed.”
Sitting next to his son, Sergean Djokovic can be heard telling Djurji “the matter is up to the court” when the question is asked.
On December 16, the day he tested positive for the virus, Djokovic was photographed at three events, where none of the other participants were masked. The next day, he was also photographed at the Youth Awards.
The previous ruling, issued via a video link at the Australian Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne, comes after days of speculation and public outrage over whether the tennis star will be able to play in the Australian Open, despite not having been vaccinated for the Covid-19 virus.
Facing a deportation and his hopes of winning his 21st Grand Slam in jeopardy, Djokovic launched a legal challenge.
During the hearing, Djokovic’s legal team argued that he had obtained the medical exemption required to travel to Australia and bypassed vaccination restrictions for Covid-19. His defense argued that this exemption was granted on the grounds that Djokovic had natural immunity after contracting Covid-19 in December.
Djokovic, who had previously expressed opposition to Covid-19 vaccines and vaccine mandates, was not immune upon his arrival in Australia. In his ruling, the judge indicated that if Djokovic was deported, he would be banned from Australia for three years.
The case has drawn global attention and angered his supporters and critics, with some saying his case shows celebrities receive special treatment when it comes to Australia’s strict Covid-19 rules, which have seen families separated for years, and others who believe the coronavirus restrictions encroach on their civil liberties.
Arguments for both the defense and the government centered mainly around guidance from an advisory group to the federal government called the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI).
Nick Wood, a senior adviser representing Djokovic, said ATAGI’s advice was that previous Covid infections provide at least six months of natural protection – “and therefore can be considered a temporary exemption from vaccination”.
He said Djokovic realized he had obtained government approval to come to Australia, and made repeated pleas to federal officers in Melbourne that he “did everything he understood was required of him to enter Australia”.
“Any reasonable person would understand, and did understand, that he ticked absolutely every square,” Wood added.
Lawyers for Australia’s home affairs minister, Karen Andrews, have defended the Australian Border Force’s decision to deport Djokovic, arguing that the tennis star had provided no medical reason for not being able to vaccinate against Covid-19.
The government said Djokovic erred in believing he was guaranteed entry, and that previous infection with the Covid virus did not mean an acceptable medical reason for not receiving the vaccination.
They pointed to the same ATAGI guidelines, which say that while natural protection is recognized, prior infection is “not a contraindication to vaccination” – which means it’s not a valid reason for someone not to get the vaccine.
The government also argued that while these guidelines suggested people could temporarily postpone their vaccinations after developing an acute illness, “there was no indication that Djokovic was seriously ill”.
In its note to the court, the government said: “All he has said is that he has tested positive for Covid-19. It is not the same.”
Tran, the government’s lawyer, said authorities had low restrictions on canceling visas and that even the possibility of a risk to Australians’ health was reason enough.
However, Judge Anthony Kelly appeared to acknowledge Djokovic’s position, saying he was “disturbed” by the burden placed on the tennis star to provide evidence to officials.
Djokovic had tested positive for Covid-19 in December – which independent committees agreed was a good enough reason to delay Djokovic’s need for a vaccination.
“What more could this man have done?” Judge Kelly said.
What is Djokovic playing for in the Australian Open?
The visa debacle has threatened Djokovic’s chances of a record-breaking Grand Slam at the Australian Open, which kicks off in Melbourne on January 17.
Djokovic currently holds 20 Grand Slam victories, equaling the historic record with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
The win in Melbourne means Djokovic breaks the record for the most Grand Slam titles ever by a man.
That’s a very real possibility – Djokovic has won the Australian Open nine times before.
Federer, 40, will not play in Melbourne, and while Nadal, 35, is set to play, he has struggled with the injury.
The pair have faced each other 58 times, with Djokovic leading by 30 wins to 28. Nadal, who once won the 2009 Australian Open, is ranked sixth in the world.
CNN’s Hilary Whiteman, Hannah Ritchie, and Angus Watson contributed to the report.