Accused of organising last year's huge anti-lockdown rally in Whangārei, Covid-19 rules protester Robbie Johnson escaped a conviction after charges were withdrawn or downgraded.
At a case review hearing in Whangārei District Court on Friday, Johnson, 47, who was initially charged with two counts of breaching the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act - a criminal offence, for which he could have been convicted - pleaded guilty to a lesser infringement-only offence.
Judge Greg Davis granted police leave to downgrade one of the original charges to the infringement offence of having organised the rally on October 16. The second charge was withdrawn.
The infringement charge carried a fine of up to $1000 but Judge Davis chose not to impose any monetary penalty.
The judge said aside from all the fervour or turmoil of the vaccination debate, he just saw a 47-year-old man with no previous convictions and questioned whether it was necessary for that person's record to be marked.
He was pleased there was no conviction to be entered and content to just discharge Johnson with no penalty, the judge said.
Outside court, Johnson hugged his wife, who was waiting among a group of about 20 supporters.
Ongoing Covid-19 restrictions at the courthouse prevented the group from entering the building.
Johnson, who previously represented himself, was represented at Friday's hearing by lawyer Wayne McKean.
In submissions, McKean said Johnson was not about vaccination or anti-vaccination but about rights - freedom of speech, the right to protest, and the right to choose.
The rally was for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Johnson had meetings with police in the lead up to the rally and tried to work out how the event could be done safely.
It was organised for people to be in small groups and there were sign-in and scanning devices to register people.
However, at the end of the day Johnson accepted it was a breach of the order.
In a media statement released after the hearing, Johnson said, "I am pleased the judge discharged me without penalty and specifically said I was not to be convicted.
"I hope my fellow freedom fighters around the country are treated with the same fairness and respect."
Johnson said the Act is "making criminals out of good people and unjustly locking them up for simply expressing their views.
"Because I chose to share my beliefs in a public area and people came to listen and support, I was prosecuted," Johnson said.
The rally was at Kensington Park on October 16 last year, when Northland was at alert level 3.
Police allege Johnson, the Destiny Church-affiliated Man Up movement, and FreedomsNZ, were the driving forces behind it.
More than 1000 people opposed to lockdowns and other aspects of the Government's Covid-19 response, turned out.
It was held on the same day of the nationwide Super Saturday initiative, where district health boards and Māori health providers tried to get as many people as possible vaccinated in one day.
The Kensington Park event was the biggest protest in the country after Auckland where an estimated 2000 people gathered at Auckland Domain.