30th March 2020
There is a public health emergency in England as there is in the rest of the world, and so it is essential that emergency public health laws be in place.
Nothing should gainsay that simple proposition, and nothing in this post should be taken as opposing the imposition of public health law in the current emergency.
That is why emergency public health laws exist.
Yet, we should take a moment to reflect the extraordinary legal situation that we are now in.
Three fundamental freedoms – freedom of movement, freedom of association and freedom of worship – have all been abolished for six months by a statutory instrument which has been neither scrutinised nor voted on by members of parliament.
The freedom to conduct business or be self-employed also has been either severely curtailed or effectively removed by the same means.
Under Regulation 6(1), it is even now a criminal offence to leave your own home, unless (in effect) the police are satisfied you have a reasonable excuse.
The whole country is thereby (in effect) under house arrest.
The police, in turn, have been given wide powers to enforce these regulations, including the use of coercive force.
And in turn, again, the police are interpreting these wide powers even more widely, with roadblocks, drones, and a made-up restriction on “essential travel”.
The police are also encouraging people to snitch on each other.
On social media there are accusation and counter-accusation, as neighbours turn on each other.
People are afraid of the police, and increasingly of each other.
Those with mental health problems, and those in abusive households, are being made to feel that the law means that they have to stay inside.
This is actually not the case at law.
The Regulations provides scope for leaving the house for such important reasons.
One can hardly dare imagine what is now happening behind closed doors, with vulnerable people believing (wrongly) that the law prevents them escaping.
And one must dread the real consequences of this.
And all this is on top of the fact that all electronic means of us communicating each other are – in principle – subject to interception and surveillance laws.
This means that everything being communicated between citizens – is in principle – open to the government to monitor.
If it were not for this public health emergency, this situation would be the legal dream of the worst modern tyrant.
Everybody under control, every social movement or association prohibited, every electronic communication subject to surveillance.
This would be an unthinkable legal situation for any free society.
Of course, the public health emergency takes absolute priority.
But we also should not be blind to the costs.
Thank you for visiting this independent law and policy blog.
If you value this free-to-read and independent legal and policy commentary, including on the emergency coronavirus laws and on Brexit, you can support this blog and my Twitter account by becoming a Patreon subscriber.
You can subscribe to this blog at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).
Comments are welcome but pre-moderated, and so comments will not be published if irksome.