Magna Carta Still Rules 800 Years On
We will mark a special occasion on 15 June this year; it will be eight hundred years to the day that King John signed the Magna Carta (Great Charter) at Runnymede, creating rights and laws for the people of England. The document is the foundation for the rule of law in democratic societies around the world, including Australia.
The 1215 document established the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. It gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial by a jury, independence of the judiciary and equality before the law.
One clause stands out even today: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights of possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”
King John didn’t sign out of the goodness of his heart. As all Robin Hood movies tell us, John was a bad king. The barons rebelled and held swords to the king’s throat to make him sign. King John’s Magna Carta of 1215 underwent many changes over the centuries, and even though the original didn’t apply to serfs, it is regarded as the foundation of democracy and liberty in England. Its core principles became the basis for the United States Bill of Rights in 1791 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.
Ben Stack, CEO of Stacks Law Firm, said Magna Carta has echoed down the ages as a cry for freedom against tyranny and the abuse of power by those in power.
“The principle the Magna Carta established that we are all subject to the law, including those who govern, has had enormous impact on the liberties and freedoms we enjoy in Australia today,” he said.
“It laid down the fundamental principles that should apply in any system of good governance and although it’s turning 800 years old, it’s still an inspiring and important document. Consider the current, ongoing debate in democratic societies around the world about security and legislation to prevent terrorism. In many cases, this legislation gives governments much greater powers and reduces some of the individual rights of citizens.
Governments should absolutely take steps to ensure the collective security of citizens but there’s a balance to be reached. For instance, should a government minister have the power to remove a person’s citizenship without them having the legal right to state their case in court? Because that’s a proposal currently being debated by our Federal Parliament. I wonder what those who drafted the Magna Carta 800 years ago would think of that proposal,” Mr Stack said.