We will mark a special occasion on 15 June this year; it will be
eight hundred years to the day that King John signed the Magna
Carta (Great Charter) at Runnymede, creating rights and laws for
the people of England. The document is the foundation for the rule
of law in democratic societies around the world, including
The 1215 document established the principle that everybody,
including the king, was subject to the law. It gave all 'free
men' the right to justice and a fair trial by a jury,
independence of the judiciary and equality before the law.
One clause stands out even today: "No free man shall be
seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights of possessions, or
outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way,
nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do
so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of
the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or
King John didn't sign out of the goodness of his heart. As
all Robin Hood movies tell us, John was a bad king. The barons
rebelled and held swords to the king's throat to make him sign.
King John's Magna Carta of 1215 underwent many changes over the
centuries, and even though the original didn't apply to serfs,
it is regarded as the foundation of democracy and liberty in
England. Its core principles became the basis for the United States
Bill of Rights in 1791 and the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights of 1948.
Ben Stack, CEO of Stacks Law Firm, said Magna Carta has echoed
down the ages as a cry for freedom against tyranny and the abuse of
power by those in power.
"The principle the Magna Carta established that we are all
subject to the law, including those who govern, has had enormous
impact on the liberties and freedoms we enjoy in Australia
today," he said.
"It laid down the fundamental principles that should apply
in any system of good governance and although it's turning 800
years old, it's still an inspiring and important document.
Consider the current, ongoing debate in democratic societies around
the world about security and legislation to prevent terrorism. In
many cases, this legislation gives governments much greater powers
and reduces some of the individual rights of citizens.
Governments should absolutely take steps to ensure the
collective security of citizens but there's a balance to be
reached. For instance, should a government minister have the power
to remove a person's citizenship without them having the legal
right to state their case in court? Because that's a proposal
currently being debated by our Federal Parliament. I wonder what
those who drafted the Magna Carta 800 years ago would think of that
proposal," Mr Stack said.
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