After hours of deliberation, technical glitches and arguments on both sides, Judge Anthony Kelly ordered that Djokovic be released from a temporary hotel detention center and his belongings returned to him within 30 minutes of Monday’s ruling.
Judge Kelly also ordered the defendant in the case, the Australian Home Office, to pay for Djokovic’s legal costs.
Following the decision, a government lawyer said the Australian Immigration Minister reserves the right to personally intervene in the case. Christopher Tran, representing the government, said Minister Alex Hawke retains ministerial power to remove Djokovic from the country, despite the ruling.
The ruling, held via video link at the Australian Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne, comes after days of speculation and public anger over whether the tennis star could play at the Australian Open, despite not be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Faced with deportation and his hopes of winning a record 21 Grand Slam in jeopardy, Djokovic launched a legal challenge.
During the hearing, Djokovic’s legal team argued that he had obtained the required medical exemption to travel to Australia and avoid vaccination restrictions for Covid-19. That exemption had been granted on the grounds that Djokovic had natural immunity after being infected with Covid-19 in December, his defense argued.
Djokovic, who previously voiced opposition to Covid-19 vaccines and vaccine mandates, was not vaccinated when he arrived in Australia. In his ruling, the judge noted that if Djokovic had been deported, he would have been expelled from Australia for three years.
The case has drawn global attention and drawn ire from both his supporters and critics, with some saying his case shows that celebrities are getting special treatment when it comes to Australia’s strict Covid-19 rules, which have seen families separated for years, and others who believe coronavirus restrictions are encroaching on their civil liberties.
The arguments for both the defense and the government essentially centered on guidelines issued by a federal government advisory group called the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI).
Nick Wood, lead attorney representing Djokovic, argued that ATAGI’s advice states that previous Covid infection provides at least six months of natural protection, “and therefore can be considered as a temporary exemption to vaccination.”
He said that Djokovic understood that the government had given him approval to come to Australia and had repeatedly appealed to federal officials in Melbourne saying that “he had done absolutely everything that he understood was necessary to enter Australia.”
“Any reasonable person would understand, and he understood, that he had checked absolutely all the boxes,” Wood added.
Lawyers for Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews defended the Australian Border Force’s decision to deport Djokovic, arguing that the tennis star did not provide any medical reason why he could not be vaccinated against Covid-19. .
The government said Djokovic was wrong to think that he was guaranteed entry and that a previous Covid infection does not amount to a valid medical reason why he could not be vaccinated.
They pointed to the same ATAGI guidelines, which say that despite the recognition of natural protection, past infection “is not a contraindication to vaccination,” meaning it is not a valid reason for someone not to receive the vaccine.
The government also argued that while those guidelines suggest that people may temporarily postpone vaccination after an acute illness, “there was no indication that Djokovic was seriously ill.”
“All he has said is that he tested positive for Covid-19. That is not the same,” the government said in its court filing.
Tran, the government attorney, said authorities have a low limit for canceling visas and that even the possibility of a health risk to Australians was reason enough.
Judge Anthony Kelly, however, appeared to acknowledge Djokovic’s position and said he was “shaken” 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 to be reason enough to delay the need to vaccinate Djokovic.
“What else could this man have done?” Judge Kelly said.
What does Djokovic play at the Australian Open?
The visa debacle had threatened Djokovic’s chances of winning a record 21 Grand Slam at the Australian Open, which begins in Melbourne on January 17.
Djokovic currently has 20 Grand Slam victories, tying the all-time record with tennis greats Rafael Nadal of Spain and Roger Federer of Switzerland.
A victory in Melbourne would mean that Djokovic would break the record for the most Grand Slams in his career by a man.
That’s a very real possibility: Djokovic has won the Australian Open nine times before.
Federer, 40, does not play in Melbourne and although Nadal, 35, is ready to play, he has suffered an injury.
The pair have met 58 times, with Djokovic leading the way 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 to this report.