Yesterday, a much experienced and highly respected former Supreme Court judge warned that the government’s response to the coronavirus has been disproportionate, and is comparable to the actions of a police state.

You can hear Lord Jonathan Sumption talk on this issue here:

Front-page worthy, you would have thought; especially if our papers were properly fulfilling their reporting duties. Alas, this is too much to ask for in a time when all our major institutions – the press included – have abandoned their critical functions, preferring instead to join in with the national hysteria.

I will use the example of The Times (‘Britain’s most trusted national newspaper’, it claims) to demonstrate this lack of proper reporting. The story does not feature fully on the first page, or on page two, three, four… It comes in at page ten (which, admittedly, is better than the featuring on page thirteen in The Telegraph – which is much larger – last week of scientific criticism of the methodology of those behind coronavirus death rate predictions), receiving a measly left-page corner slot.

Only an element of Lord Sumption’s complaints is put across to the reader – his criticism of the behaviour of certain police forces. The article, written by the paper’s Legal Editor, fails to make proper mention of his charge against the government for acting tyrannically by placing all under ‘house imprisonment’. Surely this is more significant than a handful of police forces acting in an overly-officious manner. Lord Sumption’s statement that we have entered into ‘a state in which the government can issue orders or express preferences with no legal authority and the police will enforce ministers’ wishes’ (my emphasis) is mentioned in passing but, again, is used to suggest his main problem is with the police and not with the government.

It is also worth noting the way in which Lord Sumption himself is presented in the article, since this is likely to inform the reader’s judgements of how seriously to take his accusations. Really all we get is that he ‘is known for controversial opinions’… There is, amazingly, NO mention of his having taken the highly prestigious role of delivering last year’s Reith Lectures for the BBC. Or that he has written a great number of highly-praised books on a range of legal and historical matters. Neither mind all this; he is ‘controversial’!

This, I think, perfectly sums up the way in which our institutions have failed us during the coronavirus pandemic; when their criticism is needed more than ever.

 

Photo by U.S. Department of State – available HERE.