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November 5, 2014

The Legacy of Magna Carta and fundamental liberties

Australian Magna Carta 800th Committee to assess impact of Magna Carta on contemporary politics.

The Magna Carta Committee of the Rule of Law Institute of Australia is delighted to announce that it has been awarded £20,000 by the UK Magna Carta Trust’s 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee.  The award will be used to develop a website entitled “The Legacy of Magna Carta and fundamental liberties” and make educational material available to all Australians and other countries of the Commonwealth.

The Legacy of Magna Carta website will explore fundamental liberties of the individual as they exist in selected Commonwealth countries today. It will be a resource for teachers and students to learn about individual liberties, legal institutions and events that enshrine the legacy of Magna Carta.

Magna Carta is the most famous and important document in the history of the English speaking world.  It was granted on the 15 June 1215 by King John and next year we will celebrate its 800th anniversary.

It is critical to the protection of an individual’s fundamental liberties.  It was a source of the US Declaration of Independence.  And it was brought with the first settlers to Australia and became part of our legal heritage.

As Sir Gerard Brennan, a former Chief Justice of Australia, has said, the Magna Carta has lived in the hearts and minds of Australian people.  It is an incarnation of the spirit of liberty in Australia.  And whatever its literal text or meaning, it has become the talisman of the spirit of a society in which tolerance and democracy reside, a society in which power and privilege do not produce tyranny and oppression.

Chairman of the Australian Magna Carta Committee, Professor Nicholas Cowdery AM QC, noted the following: “The principles reflected in the Magna Carta are valuable in educating students about liberty, democracy and the rule of law. It is an inspiration for a framework of laws which provide the basis for peace and order in many countries, and for individual liberties.”              

The website will include online interactives and downloadable print resources for secondary students (aged 12 – 18) who participate in legal or civics courses as part of their studies. Exploration of fundamental principles of legality such as checks and balances on the power of government, and the relationship between the rule of law, democracy and liberties will highlight the importance of Magna Carta in contemporary discussions about liberty.

The first two countries to be examined on the website will be Australia and Fiji.

For over 200 years the Charter has been part of the Australian psyche and is a fundamental reason our society has had no civil wars or serious civil unrest, with dissent and individual freedoms accommodated peacefully.

Fiji, an island nation in the South Pacific, which became independent from the United Kingdom in 1970, has recently been readmitted as a full member of the Commonwealth after a period of undemocratic military rule. The constitutional framework for liberty in Fiji and its recent democratic elections are a fascinating study in the workings of government, the rule of law and liberty.

Resources for a further two Commonwealth countries will be made available mid-2015.

A portal with links to Magna Carta education materials from a range of cultural institutions will also link teachers and students to the wealth of information already available.

The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt. Hon. George Osborne MP, who provided for the grant to the UK Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee in his March 2014 budget, said: “The principles of freedom and liberty which the Magna Carta codified for the first time have had a lasting impact not just in the UK but around the world.  I announced at the Budget that the Government would support the commemoration of the 800th anniversary of King John and his barons sealing the document.  I am pleased that it will be commemorated in so many interesting and exciting ways, involving people from around the UK, the Commonwealth and beyond”.

Details of the Australian Magna Carta Committee appear at:



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