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October 13, 2011

The Continuing Importance of Magna Carta

By Sir Anthony Clarke - MR

Magna Carta, or as it is properly called the Great Charter of Liberty, was born on 15 June 1215 at Runnymede when King John – Bad King John as he is more commonly known – was persuaded to accede to a number of demands made by a powerful group of his Barons. It may well have been short lived as it was swiftly declared by Pope Innocent III, at John’s urging, to be null and void. It was, perhaps not unreasonably, said to have been procured through extortion.

It was however one of those rare pieces of legislation, if not perhaps unique, which was not simply revived but has been reaffirmed on numerous occasions in the centuries since John’s death. It was, for instance, reissued three times by John’s son, Henry III. It was entered on the Parliament Rolls by Edward I on 28 March 1297. It has retained its statutory force ever since, although its application has been severely curtailed by a number of amending statutes; only Chapters 1, 9 and 29 remain in force. Of those three sections Chapter 29, or chapters 39 and 40 as it was in the original 1215 version, is the one that resonates today as recent events in Parliament have shown. I refer of course to David Davis MP’s decision to stand down from Parliament and fight a by-election on the issue of 42 day detention. For him as for so many people here and around the world Magna Carta, and chapter 29 in particular, remains an enduring symbol of freedom; of the fundamental rights that lie at the very heart of our open and democratic societies as they have developed over the long centuries from Runnymede.

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The Continuing Importance of Magna Carta



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