Even without a significant birthday, 800-year-old Magna Carta would be frequently cited at the moment. The promise that, ‘To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice,’ is just the thing to add ancient weight to an encomium for access to justice. The precedent it set as a check on executive government is also regularly invoked by supporters of trade treaties such as TTIP.
A word of caution, however – this was not quite the Olde Worlde Human Rights Act that some laypersons seem to think. In places it reads like an ecclesiastical, baronial and burghers’ ‘brain dump’ of grievances. Jewish money lenders see their rights reduced, women are put down as unreliable witnesses in law, entire families are barred from office and there are two mentions of fish. And the church does rather well out of the settlement.
As an ancient attempt at ‘the better ordering of our kingdom’, Magna Carta is an arresting document – elements of which survive in the structure of our modern law and constitution. It will be rightly commemorated at the Global Law Summit later this month. One wonders, nevertheless, how many Britons have actually read it – or even have the faintest idea what’s in it.