Why doesn’t this surprise me? From the UK we read that;
‘Doctors will have power to section people indefinitely
The Coronavirus Bill (which is being passed into law this week at breakneck speed) will, among other things, (1) authorise a forcible detention of people on mental health grounds (‘sectioning’) on the opinion of any one doctor (rather than two, as previously required) and (2) abolish the six-month time limit on ‘sectioning’. Any one doctor will have the power to lock you up in a lunatic asylum indefinitely – all in the interests of your own and others’ safety.
It is well-known, and self-evident, that forcible psychiatric detention is an area which is open to abuse in the absence of effective safeguards. In the Soviet Union, it was used simply as a tool to suppress political dissent. This may be an extreme example, but where is the guarantee that one rogue doctor or another will not, once in a while, abuse his newly found unlimited power? For very good reasons, we have had safeguards against that in our law. Now they are being urgently abolished – supposedly as an obstacle to our survival of the epidemic. How exactly are they such an obstacle?
It should be stressed that this has nothing to do with increasing doctors’ capacity to deal with coronavirus patients. A psychiatrist is not much help in treating a respiratory disease. In fact, he would be as useful as a gynaecologist. Just like gynaecologists can safely continue to supervise (and hopefully, sometimes refuse to authorise) abortions, there is no reason why psychiatrists cannot carry on doing their usual job – which includes, most importantly, protecting people from arbitrary detention on unsound psychiatric grounds. Those duties are expendable luxuries, but are vital safeguards of liberty.
Powers to issue warrants for surveillance
Another frightening power-grab in the Coronavirus Bill is the expansion of the power to appoint temporary judicial commissioners, with the powers to issue warrants for surveillance, under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. The threat to civil liberty is obvious; and this has nothing to do with coronavirus.
Given those examples, one inevitably looks more sceptically at the idea that the government knows best about its other measures which ostensibly have something to do with coronavirus. Things like prolonging local councillors’ term in office for a whole year without a democratic mandate; police power to detain anyone for up to 48 hours on suspicion of a threat to public health; Ministers’ authority to ban mass gatherings; or court trials by skype. Are all those things really necessary? Or have some civil servants simply been waiting (heaven knows for how long) for a convenient moment to introduce them without provoking mass protests on the streets?
For example, skype trials in court sound sensible at the time of an epidemic, but the very first reported trial is a rather frightening one. That is a Court of Protection trial last week to decide the fate of an anonymous man in his ‘70s, whose GP wants to switch off his life support to let him die ‘in dignity’, and whose family objects. Remember all the debates and protests over the cases of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans in this country, and Vincent Lambert in France? Under the new regime, decisions on life and death cases of this kind are being made on a skype call. No proper trial, no ‘army’ of protesters, no real media coverage. It was only reported as a technological curiosity – the first major trial taking place by skype.
The price of liberty is eternal vigilance
These and other measures are meant to be introduced only on a temporary basis. There is a subset clause in the Bill, whereby these new laws will automatically lose force after two years unless Parliament votes to extend them beyond that period. Amendments are being debated to shorten that period. However, this does not answer the concern that some of the most drastic innovations in the Act are clearly not necessary to contain coronavirus at all. If in those two years, someone is wrongly ‘sectioned’ in a lunatic asylum, it is small comfort to them that this practice will cease in 2022. Further, as a general rule of constitutional history, temporary limitations on liberty tend to become permanent whenever they are convenient for the state. We still live today with all sorts of draconian laws introduced as a matter of emergency after 11 September 2001. Come 2022, the Coronavirus Bill powers may also be extended on whatever pretext. Indeed, section 90 of the Bill even permits the extension of those powers without a vote in Parliament.
The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Many dictatorships originate in people’s panicked enthusiasm for drastic measures to deal with a genuine crisis. Putin’s regime in Russia, for example, took hold because people trusted their democratically elected president to do whatever it takes to defeat the threat of terrorism. Eventually, when Putin responded to another terrorist attack by replacing regional elections with appointed governors, that trust was largely lost – but it was too late. It is no surprise that when we see fairly similar moves attempted in this country, our trust in the government hangs in the balance.
At least in terms of public trust, the next few days will be crucial for the government’s efforts to control the epidemic. If the government is serious about it, its legislation must be cleansed of all disingenuous attempts to take advantage. And if they are not serious about it, nobody else will be.’ https://christianconcern.com/comment/coronavirus-exploited-by-enemies-of-democracy/?utm_source=Christian+Concern&utm_campaign=a5725850b3-WN-20200228_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_9e164371ca-a5725850b3-127681039