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‘This is What a Police State is Like’: Ex-Supreme Court Justice Sounds Alarm on Lock down Overreach

Oliver Laneby Oliver JJ Lane

A recently retired supreme court judge has sounded the clearest warning yet over the major threat to the freedom of the British people by overenthusiastic police forces responding to the unprecedented demands made by the government over coronavirus.

Speaking to the BBC, Lord Sumption — who stood down from the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in 2018 as one of the most senior judges in the country — called the actions by one Police force in particular “frankly disgraceful”. While noting the majority of police forces had acted with restraint so far, the prominent lawyer warned the public against giving up hard-won freedoms while in a panic and craving security over coronavirus.

Framing the peer’s comments while introducing him on the BBC radio show World at One by implying they sounded like the ravings of “wild-eyed campaigners”, the broadcaster invited Lord Sumption to elaborate on his earlier remarks where he previously highlighted the importance of the rule of law even during a crisis, writing in The Times: “Liberty and the rule of law are surely worth something even in the face of a pandemic.”

Calling on the public to engage with scientific evidence critically and to come to their own conclusions over what constitutes a reasonable “common sense” response to the pandemic rather than “resign our liberty into the hands of scientists”, Lord Sumption explained to the BBC Monday that genuine fears whipped up to frenzy was a historical catalyst for peoples giving up liberty in haste, before repenting at leisure.

Lord Sumption said: “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.

“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.”

At the core of the crisis of policing over the response to coronavirus is the enormous overreach of some forces in enforcing the lockdown, and particularly where individual forces and officers had taken it on themselves to enforce the wishes of government ministers, rather than the law itself, Lord Sumption said. The most troubling developments in this area have been Derbyshire police, whose recent actions included surveilling members of the public exercising in isolation in the remote countryside, recording them with flying drones, and then releasing that footage online in an apparently attempt to shame people into not leaving their home.

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