US Attorney General Eric Holder struck a personal note addressing today's opening session of the Global Law Summit, as he recalled watching ‘on a black and white TV’ his predecessor Robert Kennedy, with his brother president John F Kennedy, lend their support to the enrolment of two black students in a previously segregated southern college. 


‘They set out to bend’ the arc of history, Holder said. One of those students went on to become his sister-in-law.

Such episodes in the civil rights movement, Holder said, showed the law to be ‘at its best a strong and deft instrument for change’. Such principles flow directly from Manga Carta, he noted. ‘Manga Carta has become our history, and will shape our future.’

‘Fidelity’ to Magna Carta’s central themes required the legal community to ‘venerate and vindicate’ its core principles.

In the context of current US policy, Holder said, fidelity found its expression in policies that had delivered the first ever drop in the federal prison population against a backdrop in falling crime.

Holder said he had seen first hand, as a prosecutor and a judge, the close links between poverty, criminality and the justice system – links that created a circle that the justice system had a duty to help break.

‘Justice is not an abstraction’ to be defined and imposed by the powerful and the state and imposed on the population, he warned delegates. In considering the relevance of Magna Carta in the modern world, they needed to consider how the principles of justice were represented in ‘every interaction’ between the justice system and those who relied on it.