If there is one thing our elites enjoy it is giving each other a big pat on the back and the extravagant celebrations planned for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta will give them lots of opportunities to do just that.
There may still be eighteen months to go before the actual anniversary itself but the commemoration events are well underway to mark the day in 1215 that King John was finally brought to heel by the barons and where limited government and Western constitutional freedom was born.
In Britain the BBC will broadcast TV documentaries, dramas and radio programmes, and the event is to even have its own opera and specially commissioned symphony. The occasion will be marked by commemorative stamps and the Royal Mint will issue a special £2 coin. In America high-powered lawyers and constitutional experts will be chewing over the meaning of it all at banquets, dinners, lectures and exhibitions in Boston, Washington and Philadelphia and 800 U.S. lawyers are expected to make the pilgrimage to Runnymede beside the Thames where the document was sealed.
Across the English-speaking judicial world no single document is probably more venerated than the Great Charter. The Founding Fathers embedded it into the 1791 Bill of Rights in the shape of the Fifth Amendment that says no-one “can be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law”. And today it is regularly cited in newspaper editorials, political debates and Supreme Court judgments.
But amidst all the self-congratulation about habeas corpus, the right to trial by jury and how it’s wisdom shines down the through the ages and still has much to teach us, one awkward question should be asked, however churlish it might seem.. Read more »