CEFA and the Magna Carta – marking the 800th anniversary in Australia

Magna Carta Image

The foundation of our Australian modern democracy.

Why mark the 800th Anniversary?

On 15 June 1215 at Runnymede, King John agreed, under oath, to the Magna Carta, the Great Charter, and sometimes also called the Magna Carta libertatum, the Great Charter of Liberties.  It was first sealed on 19 June 1215 and then distributed widely.

This massive document was revised several times - reissued in 1216, revised in 1217 and 1225, and a 1297 version was brought into English law virtually unchanged from the 1225 version.

One of only four of the authentic copies of the 1297 version remains in the custody of the Australian Parliament.

The importance of the principles enunciated in the Magna Carta cannot be underestimated.  Magna Carta has influenced common and constitutional law as well as political representation and the development of Parliament. 

It embodies the principles underpinning the emergence of parliamentary democracy and the legal system in the UK, in the free world more generally, and especially in Australia: limiting arbitrary power, curbing the right to levy taxation without consent, holding the Executive to account, and affirming the rule of law.

These are principles too often taken for granted, and often not fully understood.  They are the foundation stones of our major institutions, notably our Parliament and our Courts.  Magna Carta and the freedoms it espouses are also fundamental to the values we have cherished for centuries.  And they are values that should unite us all, especially as these days they are being challenged by those opposed to the rule of law.

Freedoms  enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people from hundreds of countries today. Lord Worcester, Chairman of the Magna Carta Committee.

So what is the contemporary relevance of the Magna Carta?

  • It is the foundation stone of the freedoms enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people in more than 100 countries worldwide.
  • It enshrined the rule of law in our society.
  • It limited the power of authoritarian rule and enshrined the principle that no one is above the law.
  • It paved the way for trial by jury.
  • It linked taxation to democratic government - the slogan ‘No taxation without representation’ being a fundamental theme of the American Revolution.
  • It proclaimed certain religious liberties.
  • It has influenced constitutional thinking worldwide including in the USA (notably the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments), Europe, the Commonwealth (including Australia), and in over 100 other countries, as well as the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Denials of Magna Carta’s basic principles have led to loss of liberties and human rights, even genocide, in many countries over the centuries.

CEFA is proud to celebrate with modern representative democracies from across the world as the 800th Anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede approaches

What is the Magna Carta?

After years of autocratic rule in England a group of rebellious barons forced King John with some tricky war-mongering to authorise the Magna Carta. This “Great Charter” established the principle that everyone, including the King was subject to the law. It also guaranteed the rights of free men, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial. Written in Latin, 13 copies were created, sealed with the King’s mark and distributed throughout the land.

Since then the Magna Carta has become the foundation of parliamentary democracy.

The influence of the Magna Carta

Democracy has been achieved through an evolution and the Magna Carta is a building block that has influenced many other charters, petitions, bills and constitutions. These documents are marking points along the path to modern democracy.

English Documents that have been influenced by the Magna Carta include:

The rights of Englishmen and the Magna Carta were also carried in the minds of colonists around the world and influenced the following documents:

  • The US Declaration of Independence 1776
  • The US Constitution 1778
  • The French declaration of the rights of man and the citizen 1789
  • The US Bill of rights 1791
  • The Australian Constitution 1901
  • Universal declaration of human rights  1948

What is still relevant about the Magna Carta today to Australians?

As the longest-serving Clerk of the Australian Senate, Harry Evans writes:

There are two provisions only in the document which strike the reader as being of some significance, and these are the provisions which are always quoted as evidence of Magna Carta’s continuing importance and contribution to constitutional development. The provisions are as follows:

No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed, or outlawed, or banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him, nor send upon him, except by the legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny, or delay right or justice.

Our democracy, Constitution and parliamentary system have been built upon the legacy of Magna Carta and events that occurred in the last 800 years.  Our great democracy balances our freedoms with our rights and responsibilities.

Some interesting facts about the Magna Carta

As we approach the 15 June 2015 800thanniversary of the Magna Carta more and more eminent world leaders are claiming it as one of history’s most important documents.

  • “Magna Carta” is now translated as the “Great Charter” however for the first few hundred years the meaning of “Magna Carta” was the “Long Charter”
  • The Magna Carta has a turbulent, bloody and double-crossed beginning and influenced many centuries as countries explore their best system of government. But few dispute it represented the beginning of modern liberal democracies.
  • Magna Carta is claimed as the beginning of law and liberty and as the foundation document of our modern democracy, along with the idea that authorities can’t make up the rules as they go along.
  • The Magna Carta is the original source of the Rule of Law. It gave legal parity among all free men and the right to a trial by jury.
  • The King became constrained under the law, overturning divine rule. In later centuries the executive, legislative and the judiciary would have their own defined and limited powers under constitutions.
  • It gave limited rights to women - widows could not be forced to marry against their will.
  • In 2011 Obama stated “Our system of justice, customs and values stem from our British forefathers”

We hope all CEFA supporters will help us follow the worldwide celebration of the Magna Carta which officially launches 15 June 2015. 


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