Top ex-Judge Lord Sumption Flips on Vaccine Passports


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    In his interview with UnHerd back in March of this year, former Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Sumption upset many of his libertarian fans by coming out in favour of vaccine passports.

    I do not have strong views about vaccine passports. They are an invasion of privacy, but the information in question is on government computers anyway, so the privacy concerns can be overstated. I do not like a world in which you have to produce a document in order to justify partaking in the ordinary activities of human existence any more than the next person. The trouble is that the alternative is even worse. I would prefer a system which was entirely voluntary and which trusted people, but given that I don’t think that is a politically feasible option, I think that we have got to choose the least bad thing. And to my mind a vaccine passport is a lot less bad than simply indiscriminately depriving everybody of what makes life worth living.

    I think it’s inevitable, whatever government does, that private enterprises — for example theatre managers — will require some evidence of vaccination, because otherwise, people who are still afraid of being infected simply won’t come. I think it’s very unfortunate that that is how humanity behaves, but we’re not in a world where we can have the best solution. We’re in a world where we have to choose, because of the fears of so many people, between more or less bad options.



    MARCH 2021

    In his interview with Amol Rajan on the Today programme this morning, Lord Sumption seemed to suggest that he has now changed his mind.

    He was firmly opposed to the proposal to require vaccine passports for people attending nightclubs:

    I don’t think vaccine passports imposed by the state are a good idea now. Earlier this idea when fewer people had been vaccinated, I thought there was something to be said in allowing those who had been to prove the fact and return to normal life. But at the moment, with 70% having had both jabs, including all vulnerable groups, I think it is completely unnecessary.

    The latest statement on nightclubs is a threat that unless they insist on vaccine passports we will force them to do so. The age group affected by nightclubs has a negligible chance of getting seriously ill or dying – if they wish to take the risk then why should they not be allowed to do so? The groups it might affect have all been offered two jabs – they are highly effective against hospitalisations or deaths.

    Getting vaccinated is a choice that one has, I don’t think this should be something we should be compelled to do.- LORD SUMPTION, TODAY PROGRAMME, JULY 2021

    UnHerd has invited the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, to an interview to discuss what prompted his change of heart in the other direction — and whether there’s any chance of another U-turn before the policy would actually come online. Watch this space.

    Update: Lord Sumption has been in touch to explain his rationale in more detail:

    In March, with a much smaller proportion of the population vaccinated and the government imposing a full lockdown, I thought that vaccine passports were a lesser evil. At least some people would be able to return to normal life.

    Today, with c70% double vaccinated and 90% with antibodies, we are in a different position. Even on the logic of the control-freaks in charge, the case for vaccine passports is weak. The risk of transmitting infection remains but hospitalisations are low and deaths negligible. The problem is that the metric that ministers are using is infections, which don’t matter unless they lead to hospitalisation or death.

    I would have no issue with venue operators voluntarily calling for proof of vaccination in order to attract more of the fearful, although there is little sign of that (theatres are reported to be selling to capacity). But none of that justifies the state in muscling in with legislation or crude threats.


    Tuesday, 20 July 2021