Tennis World No.1 Djokovic’s Appeal: The Story So Far

4th April 2022 Immigration

World travel has seen issues throughout the course of the pandemic, and this has come to a height with the public situation regarding predicted tennis world champion Novak Djokovic and his deportation from Australia. The story is still developing, but everything we know about the situation so far is detailed below.

On 5th January, Djokovic entered Melbourne airport with a visa granted in November and a medical exemption approved by Tennis Australia.

To many people’s surprise, Djokovic was denied entry to the country, and was apprehended, forced to spend the following five days in a government ‘hotel’, and was unable to leave or practice. 

Due to his legal documentation, he and his legal team argued that the assessment from the Australian government was unreasonable, stating that they should have been notified before beginning the expensive process of travelling to and participating in the tennis tournament. 

He was arrested on the grounds of being unvaccinated, and bringing in little evidence to suggest medical exemption, with no evidence of an ‘acute major medical illness’ suffered in December 2019. Whether this was false information or not, Djokovic has denied explanations on why he has avoided getting vaccinated. 

When the case was brought to the federal judge, it was accepted that his state of non-vaccination was a bad thing, but the judge ruled in favour of Djokovic, reinstating his visa and allowing him to perform in the games.

The judge declared that Djokovic and his team could not have done anything about the situation due to them not being informed of it, and that the visa he was granted should have been evidence enough of his guaranteed lawful entry into the country. 

The issue discussed was not one of health concerns, but of proper procedures, which the judge stated were not followed by the Australian government and border force. The judge subsequently ordered the government to pay Djokovic’s legal fees and allow him to be released within 30 minutes.

The fact that the taxpayers’ money was used to pay his legal fees in a situation where he may be putting Australian lives at risk, caused unrest in the country, and it is argued that this is why the immigration minister invoked his powers.

The Australian immigration minister is supposed to use his powers to deport criminals and individuals deemed contagious. His powers are not intended for political use, which was the apparent situation in this case. However, as he believed it was a matter of public interest, in the four hours the government had to invoke this power of cancellation, the minister decided enough evidence had been gathered to remove Djokovic’s visa for a second time.
The options that the minister had available to pursue were:

  1. Allow Djokovic to remain in the country and play
  2. Re-cancel his visa and ban him from Australia for three years
  3. Cancel his visa, but not impose a ban

Despite knowing that further legal action would likely have to be taken, the minister ruled that the government would attempt to re-cancel the predicted champion’s visa, and ban him from the country for three years. 

Djokovic was only in Australia for 11 days before he was removed from the country. The appeal was won on grounds of procedural fairness and the fact that he posed a potential risk to the public. Additionally, his presence might have led to a rise in anti-vaccination protests.

Further ramifications have manifested in the form of Serbian and Australian tensions, as both the government and citizens of Djokovic’s home country have openly supported him since the issue began. 

As well as Djokovic announcing that he will be attempting to sue the Australian government for £3.2m through an ill treatment lawsuit, but the Serbian government has withdrawn Australian mining company Rio Titro’s licence due to pressure from the Serbian public. This is an example of how international law can become involved in drastic situations, and why immigration law is such a fine art, requiring the finesse of top lawyers to navigate.

With only 40% of Serbia’s population vaccinated, it is easy to understand why the case has caused such friction between the involved factions, and why Djokovic has remained a national idol in the country.

As leading law partner in immigration Dipesh Shah discusses in our JMW Inside Man video, these kinds of disputes are usually kept behind the scenes. However, due to the nature of the situation and the fact that many other factors - such as vaccinations and the right to choose - are brought into play, more than simply immigration law, it has become a public story.

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Dipesh Shah is a Partner located in London in our Immigration department

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