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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Quis custodiet, ipsos custodes ?

Who guards the guardians? or, who watches the watchers?

A quotation from the Roman author Juvenal writing in the early second century CE.

This question raises two very significant issues during our lockdown.

1. The Prime Minister and The Government. The constitutional check on the Executive is exercised on a daily basis via the Members of The House of Commons, and more widely by Members of The House of Lords.

At present, for obvious reasons, The Houses are not sitting. So, then, who is monitoring and questioning the Executive. The answer is the Media, in all its guises, but the Media is deeply biased pro or anti the Government and the quality of its journalists is often questionable. For example at the daily Government Briefings, the Ministers and their advisers are asked multiple questions thus allowing them to dodge those they feel most exposed on.

Of course, we still have our MPs, but save for those selected by the Media, we don't have any idea of how they continue to hold the Executive to account. As many of us have now joined the new world of 'zoom' or similar devices, surely a Committee of MPs could be called upon weekly to challenge the Prime Minister at a virtual PM's Questions? Churchill attended The House weekly to answer questions during the war, and thought this was essential to preserve the democracy for which we were fighting.

Arguably, Churchill had less need to attend as he headed a National Government whose members questioned him on a daily basis. Think of Attlee's role during the war. Johnson has chosen to continue with a traditional One Party Government; of course, one could argue that with the official Opposition caught up in the never ending saga of choosing a new leader it is not best placed to join a National Government. But, even if this was true, there are the devolved Governments and other UK Parties with members in The House of Commons and House of Lords.

Some reading this may think I am nit picking, but it is important to remember that Parliament sat throughout the two World Wars and the last time an Executive governed in such a way was in the time of Cromwell's Protectorate when for two years he governed through appointed Major-Generals. A disastrous rule widely loathed across the country.

And that brings me to the second issue raised by the Juvenal quote,

2. The Police. We have seen over the past week widespread criticism of the Derbyshire Constabulary's use of drones to monitor people taking exercise in The Peak District. The Government has subsequently clarified that we mustn't take cars in order to take exercise, but rather exercise closer to home. But that does not resolve the issue of a British Police Force using a drone to monitor, what at the time was, legitimate behaviour.

Of course, all responsible citizens wish the Police to enforce the law, yet in this unparalleled situation it is more important than ever that they do so with the consent of the public. This point was re-emphasised in an interview this week with Cressida Dick, Head of The Met, who reiterated the classic British basis for a Police Force, that it must police with the consent of the people. Here in Worthing our local Police issued a message which appeared to say, whether they intended it to or not, that we should not use the Promenade or beach for exercise. We can, as long as we keep our social distance, only go out once, and keep walking, and not travel to them by car. Police Forces must maintain a strict vigilance over themselves and their Officers to see that the increased powers given them are not abused, and to follow Cressida Dick's advice to police with public consent.

So the answer to the question posed, Quis custodiet, ipsos custodes, is US - you, me, and all the other yous and mes in Britain.

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