Are the Police Being Over-Authoritarian?

4 April 2020. Updated 22 April 2020.

The British police seem to be engaged in a competition to see who can be the most zealous when it comes to enforcing the Government’s prescribed social distancing measures. First, Derbyshire Police launched a drone to monitor people walking in the Peak District, even though that’s not contrary the official guidance provided you’re with members of your own household and you’re doing it as part of your once-a-day exercise regime. Not to be outdone, Humberside Police then set up a ‘hotline’ for wannabe members of the Stasi to dob in their fellow citizens. But the Chief Wiggum Prize for Dumb-Ass Policing must go to Buxton Police for vandalising a local beauty spot to discourage members of the public from visiting it. They poured black ink into a blue lagoon, apparently in the belief that this would mean fewer people taking selfies of themselves standing in front of it.

Jonathan Sumption, the ex-Supreme Court Justice, has emerged as the most authoritative critic of the police’s role in enforcing social distancing. In the Sunday Times on April 5th he wrote: “We have given the police powers that, even if they respect the limits, will create an authoritarian pattern of life utterly inconsistent with our traditions.”

Further Reading

Coronavirus: Lord Sumption brands Derbyshire Police “disgraceful”‘, BBC News, March 30th 2020

What the police are getting wrong about the coronavirus regulations‘ by David Allen Green, Law and Policy Blog, March 31st 2020

Coronavirus lockdown: we are so afraid of death, no one even asks whether this “cure” is actually worse‘ by Jonathan Sumption, The Sunday Times, April 5th 2020

Police across the country are wielding powers they do not have – with vanishingly little public scrutiny‘ by Francis Hoar, The Telegraph, April 5th 2020

The Government should be “calling off the dogs” and relaxing lockdown rules, scientific adviser says‘ by Robert Mendick, The Telegraph, April 13th 2020

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