The online court hearing for Novak Djokovic got off to a disastrous start on Monday, as technical difficulties and trolls derailed proceedings while the world attempted to tune in.
At one point, an expired link for the Federal Court hearing even broadcast porn as it was hijacked, apparently from overseas.
After initial disruptions, the two sides argued over the legitimacy of Djokovic’s medical exemption.
Lawyers for Djokovic said the tennis champ was “utterly confused” when he was detained at the Melbourne Airport.
Djokovic had received a vaccination exemption from medical professionals, plus an official-looking document which said “Australian Government” on the letterhead and purported to allow him entry into the country.
Judge Anthony Kelly wondered what is needed in order to enter Australia with a legitimate medical exemption.
“What more could this man have done?” the judge asked.
“Here, a professor and an eminently qualified physician have produced and provided to the applicant a medical exemption.
“Further to that, that medical exemption and the basis on which it was given, was separately given by a further independent expert specialist panel established by the Victorian state government.”
The court heard a partial transcript in which Djokovic told Australian officials that he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Djokovic contracted the virus on December 16 but has since recovered.
Lawyers for the tennis champ will cite ATAGI advice, which states that for people who have contracted COVID-19, vaccination against the virus “can be deferred for a maximum of six months after the acute illness, as a temporary exemption due to acute major medical illness.”
However the government believes Djokovic’s illness was not “acute” and will argue that this clause does not apply.
“All he has said is that he tested positive for COVID-19,” the government said in a submission.
“That is not the same.”
Australian government lawyers have asked the judge to reject Djokovic’s legal challenge and order he pay costs.
But should he win and the court order his immediate release, they want the judge to make it clear there’s nothing stopping them detaining him again.
A rough start
It appears the Federal Court was unprepared for just how many people would attempt to view the livestream from 10am (AEDT) to find out whether tennis’ world No. 1 would be deported for flouting vaccination requirements.
The masses of viewers quickly exceeded the livestream’s bandwidth, causing it to fail. Technical difficulties delayed the hearing for half an hour, after which it commenced without a working livestream link.
While the official link was down for the vast majority of Australians, a British tennis podcast managed to broadcast proceedings to more than 20,000 people worldwide.
The three podcasters gave a running commentary, collected tips in multiple currencies, and received countless comments that typically supported Djokovic, condemned vaccine restrictions or claimed that “Kosovo is Serbia”.
The court states that “any form of recording or photography is not permitted” and thus, had the podcasters been based in Australia, they could be held in contempt of court.
At one point during the broadcast, a random voice suddenly entered the online court hearing and said “We’re in”.
This prompted Judge Anthony Kelly to reprimand anyone who might not be following protocol.
“Can I ask whoever is onscreen to make sure they mute themselves,” Judge Kelly said.
“It is very important that the only people who should be online with their microphones are those who are making submissions to the court.
“Any other behaviour by any person who may be wishing to watch this live will produce a very real risk that the bandwidth available for this hearing will be overwhelmed, and the hearing will be interrupted, and that is utterly enactable.”
Eventually, the livestream stopped working for everyone – including the British tennis podcast.
Chaos on Microsoft Teams
Last week, the Federal Court preemptively shared a different link to the Monday morning court hearing via Microsoft Teams.
Although this link had been removed by the time the hearing got underway, hundreds of people still entered the Microsoft Teams meeting hoping to watch.
These included people claiming to be members of the Serbian press, where it was midnight local time.
Instead of broadcasting from the courtroom, the Microsoft Teams meeting displayed a static image with the new URL for the livestream.
A digital practice manager for the court explained the Teams link was no longer being used, and directed people to the livestream link.
“You will not be able to view the matter via this Microsoft Teams link; you will need to view it via the livestream link,” she told guests.
“There should be a grey page [at the new link] letting you know that the livestream will commence shortly.”
A handful of the several hundred viewers replied by blasting Serbian folk music and meme sounds.
Eventually, someone took control of the meeting and began displaying pornography.
The debacle follows the December hearing for the “treason” case against Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.
That online hearing similarly erupted into chaos as hundreds of anti-lockdown activists spoke over their microphones and shared pictures of the Premier as North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.