Magna Carta

800 years ago this week, King John signed what the eminent judge Lord Denning described as "the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot." 

Magna Carta limited the power of the sovereign and established fundamental liberties, beginning a process of establishing constitutional government in our country and later in others, including the United States of America.

Four copies of the original document remain, one of which I saw at Lincoln.  I am glad to have viewed it, but you don't have to do so, or make a pilgrimage to Runnymede, to appreciate Magna Carta's significance.

Today the document principally has iconic status, and some of its provisions seem antiquated ("no villages shall be compelled to make bridges at riverbanks", for instance), but it also has legal standing.

Three of Magna Carta's clauses remain in force, including the provision that "no freeman shall be taken or imprisoned ... but by lawful judgement of his peers, or by the law of the land.

The Prime Minister used Magna Carta's anniversary to make the case that Magna Carta was the foundation of our liberty, yet today the idea of human rights has become devalued, and their reputation needs to be restored.  I have made the same argument.

He reiterated the Conservative Party's manifesto commitment to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, so that the British Parliament is accountable to the British people and British judges make decisions in British courts.

Those who claim that this will tear up fundamental rights are talking tosh.  As the anniversary of Magna Carta reminds us, the British attachment to liberty is deep-rooted.  It does not rely on judges in Strasbourg.

 


Document type

Articles

Published

18 June 2015

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