In the runup to today’s octocentenary Magna Carta events, lawyers, professional bodies, academics and politicians have lined up to assert the charter’s relevance in the modern world.  

David W. Rivkin (pictured), president of the International Bar Association, said that the anniversary should be celebrated because of the charter’s ‘enduring principles’.

In today’s globalised world, the rule of law has ‘never been more essential’, Rivkin said. ‘Every economy depends on the rest of the world for trade and investment. Countries that follow the rule of law can reasonably ask others to do the same; countries that disregard the rule of law unfortunately create dangers for everyone.’

Studies published to mark the anniversary called attention to the ongoing need for recognition of charter rights. A report by legal researcher Thomson Reuters said that in the past decade, the European Court of Human Rights has made 19 rulings against the UK and 1,237 rulings against all EU countries in total for breaches to the right to a fair trial.

‘Commercial, tax and employment lawyers frequently make arguments based on the right to a fair trial – a concept that was one of the most significant legacies of Magna Carta 800 years ago,’ said author Tom Hickman, a barrister at Blackstone Chambers.

Global firm Hogan Lovells also stressed the importance of Magna Carta and the rule of law to international trade and investment. A survey of investors published today identifies China as the country where they had experienced the most significant rule of law issues. However, it also points to difficulties in the US, where issues include lack of transparency and unexpected changes in the legal and regulatory framework.

Sir Jeffrey Jowell, director of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, commented: ‘This survey confirms what has too often been doubted, namely, that the absence of rule of law is a significant deterrent to economic growth and development.’

Meanwhile, religion and society thinktank Theos stressed the role of the church in the creation and the survival of the charter. ‘Magna Carta is often treated like a quasi-religious document in itself – but this is ironic as religion, specifically medieval Christianity and the church played a key role in its creation and survival,’ Nick Spencer, research director of Theos, said.

Andrew Caplen, president of the Law Society, hinted that the rights codified in Magna Carta are in danger. ‘Magna Carta has been vital to our justice system for the last 800 years,’ he said. ’It is of paramount importance that the principles it founded are safeguarded in Britain, and globally, not just for now, but for the next 800 years and beyond.’

  • The Law Society will host a Magna Carta day on Wednesday (17 June).