2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the foundation of our legal system. In 1215 the Magna Carta became a crucial document for England’s and the world’s legal and constitutional history. Solicitor Mike Hayward put this historic document into context.
It is still seen ‘in action’ today in all areas of civil and criminal procedures and is quoted when, for instance, jury trials and fundamental freedoms are debated.
Here are a few of the Magna Carta’s charters in action today in criminal procedures:
“No free man shall be taken or imprisoned, or dispossessed or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we go or send against him except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.”
Today, we have a justice system where you can be tried by your peers (12 jurors).
“In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.”
All courts permit for witness testimony to be tested in cross examination.
“For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fi ned only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood.”
Sentencing guidelines exist to enable the courts to pass sentence proportionate to the offence. Other legal principles have derived from its charters such as the following in Wills and Probate law:
"If a free man dies intestate, his movable goods are to be distributed by his nextof-kin and friends, under the supervision of the church. The rights of his debtors are to be preserved.”
800 years on, the Magna Carta (Grand Charter) is recognised internationally as a symbol of human rights, and the famous Lord Denning described the Magna Carta as “the greatest constitutional document of all times”.
As lawyers, we strive to protect people’s rights and to seek justice and fairness. This is demonstrated by our involvement in seeking compensation for clients for miscarriages of justice or challenging legal decisions of the state in the European Court of Justice.
The principles laid down 800 years ago are therefore still live and have helped create a justice system which is often referred to as the envy of the world.