The former judge said that “we are afraid to let people be guided by their own moral judgments”
An explosion of new laws and judicial power has diminished the ability of people to take their own decisions, a former Supreme Court judge has said.
Jonathan Sumption, QC, 70, who retired from the UK’s top court in December, said that the Charlie Gard case demonstrated how the modern justice system limited personal choices.
Charlie Gard, an 11-month-old baby, died from a rare genetic disorder in 2017. Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London argued that his parents wish to take him for treatment in the United States would not be in his best interest.
The case was finally determined in favour of the hospital by the Supreme Court.
Giving the first of his Reith lectures, to be broadcast today on BBC Radio 4, Lord Sumption said the case illustrated that the power of law and modern judicial discretion had “cut down the area within which citizens take personal responsibility for their own destinations and those of their families”.
The former judge added: “We are afraid to let people be guided by their own moral judgments in case they arrive at judgments which we do not agree with.”
Mr Sumption, who was the first appointee to the Supreme Court bench to not have already served as a full-time judge, also turned to the growing health and safety culture in society.
“Every time that a public authority is blamed for failing to prevent some tragedy, it will tend to respond by restricting the liberty of the public at large in order to deprive them of the opportunity to harm themselves. It’s the only sure way to deflect criticism.”
He added: “Every time that we criticise social workers for failing to stop some terrible instance of child abuse we are, in effect, inviting them to intervene more readily in the lives of innocent parents in case their children too may be at risk.”
The former judge acknowledged that the law could “enhance personal security”, but warned that “its protection comes at a price and it can be a heavy one.
“We arrive, therefore, at one of the supreme ironies of modern life. We have expanded the range of individual rights, while at the same time drastically curtailing the scope of individual choice.”