Former judge warns of ‘police state’ during coronavirus lockdown

Former Supreme Court judge labels crackdown on drivers and walkers ‘disgraceful’

police coronavirus
(Image credit: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

A former Supreme Court judge has described crackdowns on drivers and walkers during the coronavirus lockdown as “disgraceful”.

Calling on police to be “consistent” in enforcing the law, Lord Sumption said that the UK was in danger of mirroring a “police state” while under lockdown, if other police forces mirrored the approach taken in Derbyshire.

Sumption told the BBC that it was “frankly disgraceful” that Derbyshire police had attempted “to shame people from using their undoubted right to travel to take exercise in the country”.

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Derbyshire police has deployed drones to monitor walkers and dyed the Blue Lagoon near Buxton black to make it less attractive.

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Sumption said: “This is what a police state is like, it is a state in which a government can issue orders or express preferences with no legal authority and the police will enforce ministers’ wishes.” He added that the force had “shamed our policing traditions”.

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, moved to defend the police, The Times reports. “I back the police doing a difficult job in unprecedented circumstances,” Raab said, adding that “there needs to be common sense in the way the [government] guidance is interpreted”.

According to the paper, the Humberside, Greater Manchester, Avon and Somerset and West Midlands forces are operating online portals for the public to to report those who “appear to be flouting the rules”.

The Guardian, meanwhile, says the National Police Chiefs Council and College of Policing are now “rushing through” guidance reminding officers that they cannot bar people from going for a run or a drive.

The guidance is expected to state that driving to exercise is not prohibited by the emergency powers and the law does not restrict people from exercising outside only once a day.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, Neil Basu, said officers must preserve “the trust and confidence of the public” by maintaining the tradition of “policing by consent”.

“Everyone in policing is acutely aware that how we police this pandemic will be remembered for many years to come,” Basu said. “Preserving the trust and confidence of the public by policing by consent is our mantra, and has been since 1829.”

Britons breaking coronavirus lockdown rules can be arrested or fined £60 under new police powers to ensure people stay at home and avoid non-essential travel.

Last week, senior police figures warned that enforcing Britain’s coronavirus lockdown may be impossible due to a lack of officers and insufficient powers to enforce the government rules.

At the time, Peter Fahy, a former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, warned that to do so would require a “paramilitary style of policing”.

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