Signing of the Magna Carta

June 14, 2018

On 15 June 1215 AD, the Magna Carta was signed at Runnymede, near Windsor in England, and the “rule of law” – a key conservative principle and cornerstone of Western civilisation – was born.

The original purpose of the Magna Carta was to resolve an escalating conflict. It was a peace treaty signed by then King John of England under duress by rebel barons wanting to stop the erosion of their rights, secure more say in governance and to limit the King’s power.

Meaning “Great Charter of the Liberties” in medieval Latin, the Magna Carta is famous for establishing personal liberty and sanctity of the individual for the first time, largely by ensuring due legal process and equality before the law, whether one is/was a king or a serf. In particular, it established fundamental liberties and development, including:

  • trial by one’s peers (eg a jury)
  • prohibiting the selling, denial or delay of justice to anyone (eg prolonged/indefinite detention without trial)
  • “habeas corpus” – requiring a court to decide the legality of a detention or imprisonment, and
  • giving rise to a “great (royal) council” – an early form of British Parliament.

Each monarch renewed and built upon the Magna Carta over the years, turning it into an integral part of English Law. The 1297 edition introduced a protection against the taking of private property by government without just compensation – a key property right and foundation stone for well-functioning markets.

According to Lord Denning (regarded by former British PM Margaret Thatcher as “probably the greatest English judge of modern times”), the Magna Carta was:

“the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”

America’s founding fathers drew much inspiration and guidance from the Magna Carta when drafting the US Constitution. (Indeed the memorial at Runnymede is actually American.) The Magna Carta inspired many other governments toward rules-based, liberal, democratic constitutions, limiting tyranny and barbarity and fledging a Western culture and civilisation we can all be proud of.

Celebrate/commemorate this birthday of the rule of law, individual liberty and constitutional democracy by:

  • [if you are in or near Canberra] visiting the display of the Magna Carta at the Australian Parliament House
  • reading further on this historic charter’s context and effect – for example, the book titled “Magna Carta” by Chris Berg and John Roskam of the IPA (2015 – its 800th anniversary) or their other excellent book titled “100 Great Books of Liberty” (2010)
  • finding out more about the Rule of Law at the Rule of Law Institute of Australia
  • watching a movie or reading a book set in the Magna Carta period in Great Britain, including the preceding monarch, King Richard the Lionheart and Robin Hood
  • watch the below brief Youtube clip from Conservative Party leader Cory Bernardi attacking those who seek to diminish the achievements of Western civilisation, and/or

  • sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends and those still proud of our Western civilisation.

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