Magna Carta celebrates 800 years as cornerstone of legal system

The 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta is being celebrated on 15 June 2015.

The 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta is being celebrated on 15 June 2015. The Magna Carta is one of the most famous documents in the world, and is the foundation of much of western liberal democratic values. The echoes can be found in the American Bill of Rights (1791), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the European Convention of Human Rights (1950) and in the personal rights’ provisions of Bunreacht na hÉireann.

Director General of the Law Society Ken Murphy said, “This is a document of immense significance. The Magna Carta established for the first time the principle that everybody, including even the king, was subject to the law.”

“The Magna Carta is of particular significance in Ireland as it was introduced into Irish law just a year afterwards in 1216.  Ideas that are central to liberal democracies today - the rule of law, individual liberties, due process, the separation of powers and taxation only by popular consent - can be traced back to the Magna Carta.”

“The Magna Carta was essentially a peace treaty. There was a civil war brewing in England under the tyranny of King John who was in a weak position in the summer of 1215. Many of his barons, the senior aristocrats and knights in the land, had risen up against him and had taken London. King John, who was based in Windsor, met with them at Runnymede where the Magna Carta was drawn up over several days and finally sealed.

“The Magna Carta also saw the emergence of the courts being held in one place, which essentially separated the king from the justice system. And of course you can’t really have a justice system without independent courts, an independent judiciary and an independent legal profession to support it.”

“The Magna Carta planted the seed for the progress of liberty and constitutional democracy, therefore we celebrate not so much what happened eight hundred years ago, but what has transpired since.”