Magna Carta – a brief summary

Today marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, a document which Prime Minister David Cameron said ‘changed the world’. But what exactly was the Magna Carta and why is it still relevant today? Read on to find out…

WHAT IS THE MAGNA CARTA?

Magna Carta (Latin for the Great Charter) was created on the 12th June 1215 and was the first formal document stating that a monarch was not above the law of the land. The charter contains some 63 clauses, the most important being that no one, including the King, is above the law, providing some form of representation for those who are taxed, and guaranteeing the right to a fair trial.

WHY WAS IT CREATED?

King John suffered defeat at the hands of the French in 1214, when an army largely paid for by a tax known as ‘scutage’ was defeated at the Battle of of Bouvines. The ‘scutage’ tax was a source of discontent amongst Barons. King John was also unpopular with the Church and was excommunicated by Pope Innocent III. After the King failed to confirm the Charter of Liberties, declared by Henry I a century before, the Barons rebelled, renounced their feudal ties to the King and marched on London. On 10th June, the rebels presented their demands for reform to the King and the Charter was signed 5 days later.

HOW RELEVANT IS MAGNA CARTA TODAY?

Magna Carta is widely accepted to be the first step towards establishing a parliamentary democracy in England. Since its inception 800 years ago, it has been used several times to restrain the power of the monarch. Although the more dated clauses have since been repealed, some remain enshrined in British law today, in particular the right to a fair trial for all citizens. The core principles of Magna Carta can also be found in a variety of legal documents today and are echoed in the United States Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

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