Absolute principles vs. absolute power

GIOVANNI BIRINDELLI, 11.2.2021

According to recent UK legislation imposed to enforce the new hotel quarantine rules, those who travel to red-listed countries such as Portugal, for example, and fail to report it, risk up to ten years in jail.

In a recent article, Lord Jonathan Sumption (a former judge of the UK Supreme Court) defined Matt Hancock, the minister who’s behind the hotel quarantine rules and this new legislation, a “tyrant”. Like all tyrants, Lord Sumption argues, Mr. Hancock believes that the end justifies the means: he will stop at nothing in order to pursue this end, whatever it takes (Draghi style): i.e. without any regard to the liberties, lives, wealth and humanity which are crushed in the process. 

In a previous article, Lord Sumption had already pointed out that new Covid legislation made the UK a “police state” and was the expression of a collective “hysteria”: surely, these are words which must have not been easy to write for a person who until only a few years ago was a judge of the UK Supreme Court.

However laudable are Lord Sumption conclusions, his reasoning expresses some fundamental, logical inconsistencies which are quite typical of those who would like to defend liberty but cannot make the necessary intellectual step to actually do it.

In fact, at one point Lord Sumption states that “There are no absolute principles, but only pros and cons”. 

Really?

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Can a rule be less arbitrary if it is imposed by parliament rather than by the police?

GIOVANNI BIRINDELLI, 15.1.2021

In a truly beautiful article, Jonathan Sumption (a former judge of the UK supreme court) makes two statements.

The first is that today the UK is a police state: “What is a police state? It is a state in which individuals are answerable to the police for the most routine acts of daily life. It is a state in which the police and not the law decide what is allowed. It is a state in which people have to hide their doings from their neighbours for fear of the twitching curtain and anonymous call to the police. It is a state in which ministers denounce activities of which they disapprove and the police are their compliant instruments. … We are unfortunate to live at a time of national hysteria, when that tradition [of of rule of law] has been cast aside and every one of these classic symptoms of a police state can be seen all around us

The second statement is that a police state is opposite to the rule of law: “If the law says that it is reasonable to go out to take exercise, it is not for a policeman to say that it isn’t. If the law does not forbid driving somewhere to take exercise, then it is not for the police to forbid it. … It is not the function [of the police] to enforce the wishes of ministers. It is not [its] function to do whatever is necessary to make government policy work. [Its] function is to apply the law. If the law is not tough enough, that is not a matter for them but for ministers and Parliament“.

While the first statement is not problematic, the second one in my opinion is.

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