Wednesday, April 17, 2024

EDITORIAL: Why the Magna Carta matters

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Someone once said that there is nothing so strong as an idea. That aphorism could well be applied to the origins of the Magna Carta. It is a document forced out of the King of England in an epic showdown at a time when the king was master of all he surveyed, was above the law and was source of executive and legislative functions.

The confrontation which took place almost 800 years ago may seem far removed from us but the truth is that the ideas planted by the actions of that brave collection of barons were as powerful as they were dangerous. To threaten the king’s power in 1215 was in essence a dangerous thing to do. Off with your head was a potent and final order, and many an unfortunate but brave soul paid with his life if he incurred the King’s wrath.

But it is the idea that even the monarch could be subject to the law that survives as a beacon of light which inflames the democracy that we practise to this very day; and the public is rightly encouraged to know more about the charter.

There may be many ways in which to do this but if the idea and the seed implanted by the Magna Carta has been the source of our rights and liberties, then in our opinion, teaching our people about the local Constitution in so far as it reflects the seminal influence of the Magna Carta on the creation, shape and content of the human rights enshrined in that very Constitution; may be a useful and functional way of showing the importance of that historic document to our everyday existence.

As we reflect upon our present day circumstances and that indignities such as cruel and inhuman punishments and discrimination on the basis of colour now outlawed under our Constitution, we need to remember that such examples of our rights flowed from the idea that all persons including the monarch are equal under the law.

We are well aware that the Great Charter, as it has sometimes been called, had a chequered history and that it was not fully accepted in its early existence and indeed that one pope annulled the document. Yet the seminal idea flowing from the document is that there should be a doctrine called the rule of law and that we should be governed by law and not by the capricious arbitrary and often unjust behaviour of one man or one group of men.

It is the principle of the rule of law that helps to secure and maintain our freedoms and our rights, and when laws passed by our freely elected officials are passed, after due consideration, for the public interest, we are honouring the ideas implanted upon the body politic by the Magna Carta.

We support the idea that we need to know more about our rights and about the historical origins and sources of those rights. This 800th anniversary celebration may be a good time to drive home the point that the Magna Carta matters very much to us. It has served as an inspirational example to many generations of the power of good ideas put into action. The celebrations should attract public support and we commend those who have mounted the commemorative local exhibition at the Supreme Court.

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