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MIL OSI – Source: ACT Party – Press Release/Statement

Headline: Celebrating the legacy of Magna Carta

Delivered in the house on June 16, 2015. Video can be viewed here.

DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT): I seek leave to move a motion without notice to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

MR SPEAKER: Can I just clarify with the member that this is a debatable motion that the member is proposing?


Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave. Is there any objection to that course of action being followed? There is none.

DAVID SEYMOUR: I move, That this House note the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, a document that Lord Denning described as “ … the greatest constitutional document of all times—the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”, and that established the notion that the law is not simply the whim of the king or of Government, and that all are equal under the law and can be held to account, and thus, Magna Carta represents the foundation of the rights and freedoms that we enjoy today.

This month we celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. It is a document that reminds us of the long and rich tradition of individual freedoms and legal rights that we enjoy. That tradition stretches back to the 13th century in Britain, not just back to 1840. Indeed, the Magna Carta itself was indebted to the earlier coronation charter of Henry I in 1100, a charter that was then ignored for a century.

Magna Carta itself was ignored and belittled initially, but with much struggle eventually achieved traction, it acquired a heritage, and symbolic force.

Magna Carta, which in Latin means “great charter”, paved the road to modern democracy. It can be thought of as representing the seed from which have grown many of the principles on which our democracy is based.

Meeting in 1215, feudal barons gathered outside London to define the limit of the powers of King John, forcing him to affix his seal to the charter. This charter was narrow in scope. It concerned the medieval relationship between the monarch and the barons, rather than the rights of ordinary people at that time. But over time that principle was extended. It planted the seed of an idea that extended and then generalised.

Ultimately, and with great struggle, because rulers do not easily give up their powers, it granted every citizen individual freedoms, laying the foundation for constitutional rights and for this House and our Parliament.

The American Constitution and Bill of Rights were both based upon principles laid out in the charter. It was used by Thomas Jefferson when he established the Declaration of Independence. The violations of English common law in the American colonies by King George were what provided Jefferson with ample argument, writing his Declaration of Independence from that monarchy. The fifth amendment of the US Constitution, saying that all citizens cannot be deprived of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, echoes the centuries-old Magna Carta resolutions. The charter was the first document declaring that the king or queen had to abide by the laws of the land.

In the modern context it requires that our rulers—temporary as they may be—must operate within those laws of the land. Thus, Magna Carta has come to symbolise the principle that everybody is subject to the law and that nobody, not even a king or queen, is above it. It is a symbol of liberty.

At the time of the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta it is therefore fitting that this Parliament marks this anniversary, remembers our political past, and works to build on those liberties so painfully acquired over the eight centuries since the signing of Magna Carta. Thank you.