Sheltering in place and shuttering non-essential businesses are just a few of the measures being taken to prevent or slow the spread of Covid-19 — but how much oversight is too much? One leading UK legal personality is questioning how far the government and police are going when it comes to protecting the public.
While the UK is taking precautions similar to those in the United States, retired justice Lord Sumption is questioning the tactics the country is using. Until retiring in 2018, he was one of the longest serving judges in the UK. Sumpton called actions by police forces in some areas “frankly disgraceful,” and warned against giving police too much authority in the weeks to come.
“The real problem is when human societies lose their freedom, it’s not usually because tyrants have taken it away, it’s usually because people willingly surrender their freedom in return for protection from some external threat,” he said. “And the threat is usually a real threat, but usually exaggerated and that is what I fear we are seeing now… We have to recognise that this is how societies become despotisms.”
He was speaking in an interview with the BBC, and talking about maintaining the rule of law during a pandemic – without overstepping boundaries or trampling freedoms. Lord Sumption advised the public to review medical and scientific data carefully and to use common sense – and to avoid giving up too many liberties. He feels that it is very easy to give up rights for what is really a false sense of security.
Sumption’s remarks were triggered by some ongoing police responses to the coronavirus outbreak in the UK. While most forces worked in the interest of the public, some over reached their boundaries. In Derbyshire, police were surveilling people, recording them with drones, and releasing the footage to the public. Most of these individuals were in the countryside, alone – and did not consent to being filmed. The goal of the project was to shame people who left their homes, even if they did not contact others.
Other police groups dyed the natural water in a park black to discourage visitors; still others have been accused of roughly handling people out shopping for essentials.
It was not well received by the public, and triggered the interview with Sumption.
There are also suggestions that police have been making up their own rules that do not comply with law. One area in Britain has a police ban on the sale of Easter Eggs in convenience stores – even though there is no such law in place.
The debate continues, but should serve as a cautionary tale for the freedom-loving USA to ensure we don’t follow the UK into a police led state.