The former Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Sumption, QC, has denounced the police response to the coronavirus, saying the country is suffering ‘collective hysteria’. This is an edited transcript of his interview with BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme earlier today.
BBC interviewer Jonny Dymond ‘A hysterical slide into a police state. A shameful police force intruding with scant regard to common sense or tradition. An irrational overreaction driven by fear.’ These are not the accusations of wild-eyed campaigners, they come from the lips of one our most eminent jurists Lord Sumption, former Justice of the Supreme Court. I spoke to him just before we came on air.
Lord Sumption The real problem is that 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 against some external threat. And the threat is usually a real threat but usually exaggerated. That’s what I fear we are seeing now. The pressure on politicians has come from the public. They want action. They don’t pause to ask whether the action will work. They don’t ask themselves whether the cost will be worth paying. They want action anyway. And anyone who has studied history will recognise here the classic symptoms of collective hysteria. Hysteria is infectious. We are working ourselves up into a lather in which we exaggerate the threat and stop asking ourselves whether the cure may be worse than the disease.
Dymond At a time like this, as you acknowledge, citizens do look to the state for protection, for assistance, we shouldn’t be surprised then if the state takes on new powers if it responds. That is what it has been asked to do, almost demanded of it.