Magna Carta (Latin for Great Charter), also called Magna Carta Libertatum or The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, was sealed under oath by King John at Runnymede, on the bank of the River Thames near Windsor, on 15 June 1215.
Magna Carta was the first document imposed upon a King of England by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their rights. The charter is widely known throughout the English speaking world as an important part of the protracted historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law in England and beyond.
The 1215 charter required King John to proclaim certain liberties and accept that his will was not arbitrary—for example by explicitly accepting that no “freeman” (in the sense of non-serf) could be punished except through the law of the land, a right that still exists under English law today.
The Magna Carta influenced common and constitutional law, as well as political representation and the development of parliament. Magna Carta was important in the colonisation of America, as England’s legal system was used as a model for many of the colonies when they were developing their own legal systems. It was translated into the vernacular Norman French as early as 1219 and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions.
Despite its recognised importance (Lord Denning described it as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot) very little of the document remains law.
I was looking at a medieval dovecote the other day (pictured) and it occurred to me that they both survive from the 13th Century but the difference is that the dovecote has been looked after and strengthened and it is probably more solid than ever. I tried to compare that to what has happened to the Magna Carta – there is no comparison?
2015 sees the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and the dovecote. Let me tell you which one I would be prepared to bet surviving another 100 years. With the governments we have nowadays there is no doubt that the rule of law and the rights of the individual are diminished. Hello Lord Chancellor, goodbye Magna Carta.