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May 18, 2015

Treason! Magna Carta barons face trial 800 years on

The Telegraph
By Patrick Sawer, 17th May.
Click here to read the article as it originally appeared.

The Barons and Bishops who forced King John to sign Magna Carta, enshrining key rights such as rule of law and protection of property, are to face ‘charges of treason’ – 800 years after the historic document was written.

They have long been credited with helping to lay the foundations of the British state as we know it today, based on the rule of law, the right to a fair trial and the protection of private property.

But this summer the Barons and Bishops who forced King John to agree to the Magna Carta are to be tried for treason – 800 years after the historic signing of the document at Runnymede, Berkshire, on June 15, 2015.
Senior lawyers, including the President of the UK Supreme Court, will sit in judgment on the Barons and Bishops who gathered by the River Thames after refusing to surrender London to King John to decide whether they acted lawfully or were in fact guilty of treasonable behaviour.

Advocates from across the Commonwealth will make the cases for the prosecution and the defence when the mock-trial is staged on July 31 at Westminster Hall, central London.

The signing of the Magna Carta – drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons – was designed to ensure the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown.

Sir Robert Worcester, Chair of the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, said: “The stage is being set for a show trial that will be more than just a bit of historical themed fun – the evidence being examined by these eminent judges will help explore some timeless questions of legal and constitutional importance. Is the King above the law? Is there ever a defence for breaking a solemn promise?”

Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice, who is playing the role of William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke – described as ‘the greatest knight that ever lived’ – at the mock trial John, said:

“While the weight of modern scholarship certainly suggests the barons’ and bishops’ resistance was the right thing to do, this the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta is a chance to test whether a court of law would say that their ends justified their means.

“In doing so, we’ll be exploring some of the key themes of Magna Carta, the rights of subjects, the limits on the power of monarchy, and the meaning of the rule of law.”

Magna Carta was an attempt to enforce the principle that not even the king was above the Common Law of the land and that the monarch’s powers could be held in check for the good of the country.

Thirteen copies of Magna Carta, or Magna Carta Libertatum – Latin for “the Great Charter of the Liberties” – were quickly made, complete with spelling mistakes, and distributed throughout the kingdom, and displayed to the public in the great cathedrals of England.

Although it was quickly annulled by Pope Innocent III, on the grounds that it was illegal and had been signed by King John under duress, Magna Carta went on to inspire wider challenges to absolutist monarchs and demands for greater liberty and justice for ordinary men and women, including the English Civil War and execution of Charles I; the American War of Independence; and the French Revolution.

July’s mock-trial is being staged to determine whether the Barons and Bishops behind the document were justified in law in breaching their promise to surrender London to King John and then forcing him to sign the document limiting his powers.

The trial will be judged by Lord Neuberger, President of the UK Supreme Court; Dame Sian Elisa, Chief justice of New Zealand and the Hon. Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court.

King John will appear as a witness for the prosecution.

Among the witnesses for the defence will be Sir Robert Rogers, now Lord Lisvane, who was until last August the Clerk to the House of Commons. He is expected to argue that Parliamentary democracy might not exist today where it not for the actions of the Barons at Runnymede.

The two-hour mock-trial is being staged by the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary, with around half of the 800 seats at Westminster Hall open to members of the public via a ballot to be held at the end of June.

Sir Robert added: “I hope people from across the country, of all ages and backgrounds, enter the draw for tickets to come and witness what I am sure will be one of the highlights of this year of commemorations.”

For more information on the trial and the events commemorating the anniversary of Magna Carta go to

Would you like to be in the stands at the Mock Trial? Public tickets are available through our sign – up form on the Magna Carta 800th website here.



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