Celebrating 800 Years of Democracy: Magna Carta Libertatum

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By Dr Ion Jinga in Huffington Post (06/02/2015)

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On 5 February 2015, the four surviving original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta Libertatum – the document that established for the first time the principle of the Rule of Law – were displayed for one day in the House of Lords, itself an institution symbol of democracy. The four original copies, hosted two by the British Library, one by Lincoln Cathedral and one by Salisbury Cathedral, were thus brought together for the first time in history.

This was one of the hundreds of events to be organised in 2015 in celebration of 800 years since this document was sealed on 15 June 1215 at Runnymede, near Windsor, by King John and his earls. Another event is the Global Law Summit to be held in London on 23-25 February. The summit will champion the Rule of Law as the foundation of the best commercial environment for business growth and for fair societal development, grounding the legacy and values of Magna Carta in the increasingly globalised economy of today. Romania will be represented at the summit and the Rule of Law is today a credo in my country. When the Archbishop of Canterbury first drafted the Magna Carta, he certainly did not anticipate the magnitude and consequences of a document conceived to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons.

Out of the 63 clauses of the original Magna Carta, only three remain valid today (the other 60 clauses were specific to the middle ages): one protects the rights of the Anglican Church, another confirms the liberties of London and other towns, but it is the third clause which is of a tremendous importance: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or sent others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals. To no-one will we sell, to no-one deny or delay right to justice.”

This is a fundamental law principle in any modern democratic society, namely that no one should be deprived of their freedom without just cause, and that people are entitled to fair trial by their peers according to the law of the land.

800 years after its publication, this article from Magna Carta continues to be seen as a cornerstone of liberty and a reference against the arbitrary use of power. It was embodied in the 1791 American Bill of Rights and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948, at the Palais de Chaillot, in Paris. Still, there are so many places in the world where the rights to freedom and to a fair trial are denied.

The 1215 Magna Carta is inscribed in the Unesco “Memory of the World Register”, but its significance goes far beyond the cultural heritage dimension. It continues to be relevant and inspirational today, because while reflecting the past, it tells us not to forget the present and to prepare the future. Defending justice and freedom is incredibly important when the legal international order is violently challenged by assertive states and when criminal organisations perpetrate terror through barbaric atrocities we believed impossible to imagine in modern times.

We must oppose them with all the soft and hard power and assets at our disposal within the Euro-Atlantic community: diplomacy, military strength, economic force, social model, moral values and education. But above all, we must make it clear that Justice and Rule of Law are non-negotiable ingredients of our way of living. This is the legacy left by the Magna Carta Libertatum.

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