Magna Carta and Human Rights

Does Magna Carta mean anything to you? 

In 1215, after years of heavy tax demands and violations of ancient laws, King John Lackland of England was forced by the barons of the country to seal a document known as the Magna Carta, that originally controlled the power of the king as it provided for a controlling group composed of 25 barons who had the authority to declare war on the king if he had not respected its principles. 

The Magna Carta, considered one of the most important legal documents in the development of modern democracy, was a crucial turning point in the struggle to establish freedom, as it boasted the promotion of libertarian rights for men, especially for barons, but also for the rights of the serfs. The basic points of this document were that the king should not get in the way with the Church, the merchants should be able to travel freely without having to pay the king and the king could not ask for new taxes without the consent of bishops and barons. The document was initially unsuccessful but was reprinted with some modifications reminding people of their rights and freedoms. Finally, it was used as a basis for the Common Law.

The Magna Carta has recognized three great constitutional ideas: basic rights can be stolen or violated only in accordance with the law, the government is based on the consent of the governed, reinforced by our right to free elections, and that the government and the governed are bound by the law. The values underlying the Magna Carta and human rights today are linked by ideals of basic freedom for the well-being of the individual.

In her article, Catherine Hanley,  a historian specializing in twelfth- and thirteenth-century warfare and contemporary literature says: “Every generation has its own view of Magna Carta; every politician has a different interpretation. Hardly a year goes by without Magna Carta being held up as a great beacon of freedom from oppression: the great charter of liberties; freedom, justice, and equality for all. But Magna Carta wasn’t written as a document enshrining justice for all”.( So we ask each other: “is Magna Carta useless?’ “The charter was not the great symbol of ‘freedom for all from tyranny’ that it was later made out to be, but it served two very useful purposes. Firstly, it put forward the principle that a king should rule according to an agreed set of laws, and not by whim alone. And secondly, as the years went by Magna Carta was reissued by later kings to demonstrate that they ruled in consultation with their subjects (or some of them, anyway)”.

But what we have to highlight is that it is from these principles laid out in Magna Carta that all later documents upholding human rights were derived. The examples continue on into more modern times with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948, and the European Convention on Human Rights which came into force in 1953.

For this reason, we can say that The Magna Carta is the Bible of every constitution. The values underlying the Magna Carta and human rights today are linked by ideals of basic freedom for the well-being of the individual.

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Greta Raniolo – Samuela Roccuzzo



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