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January 28, 2013

Magna Carta Today:

Anyone keeping a close eye on Parliament in December will have noted the Magna Carta being raised by Lord Mitchell in the House of Lords as well as in a question during PMQs from John Hemming, Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley, in which he asked if the Prime Minister was planning to repeal the Magna Carta.

We were all delighted when the Prime Minister confirmed he had no such plans, but the context of the question is interesting.

Hemming’s question revolved around the Government’s plans for reform of the judicial review process in the UK. His premise was that the plans were a contravention of article XXIX of Magna Carta 1297.

This article states that:

NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.

The Government’s plans, included in the current Justice and Security Bill, are to curb the right to Judicial Reviews, and the time limit in which an application for Judicial Review can be made from three months to six weeks.

Their position is that the extent and number of judicial reviews has grown significantly in recent years and we now have a system in which abuses were proving costly to both business and government.
As David Cameron noted himself in his reply, the Government plans are intended to “maintain access to justice, but perhaps speed up the wheels of government a little.”

However, former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf has recently argued on Radio 4 that “In our system, without its written constitution embedded in our law so it can’t be changed, judicial review is critical. This marks a departure.”

Hemming went even further in drawing the link to the Magna Carta, and also provided a timely reminder of the role the Magna Carta plays to this day in underpinning the legal rights we all value so highly.
It is likely that changes to the Judicial Review process will be introduced in some form, but the speed and urgency in which the Prime Minister sought to quash Hemming’s accusation is a clear indication of the importance of the Magna Carta today.

Lord Mitchell asked a question in the House of Lords of Lord McNally, who spoke for the Ministry of Justice. He called for the octocentenary to “be celebrated with all pomp and international ceremony” and suggested an exhibition of all four remaining Magna Cartas in Westminster Hall.

Several Peers spoke on the matter including Baroness Ramsey of Cartvale, who called for the statues of the sealants of Magna Carta in the House of Lords chamber to be cleaned for the occasion. Lord McNally quite rightly endorsed this suggestion wholeheartedly, and it is something that the 800th Committee will discuss with the House of Lords authorities in the coming months.



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