UK marks 800 years of Magna Carta


Her Majesty Queen El­iz­a­beth II led com­mem­o­ra­tions Mon­day to mark the 800th an­niver­sary of the Magna Carta — but the hu­man rights the doc­u­ment helped en­shrine are at the cen­ter of a mod­ern po­lit­i­cal feud.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron and U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta Lynch joined the queen for a cer­e­mony at Run­nymede, a river­side meadow west of Lon­don where, in 1215, King John met dis­grun­tled barons and agreed to a list of ba­sic rights.

The Magna Carta — Latin for Great Char­ter — is con­sid­ered the found­ing doc­u­ment of English law and civil lib­er­ties and was an in­spi­ra­tion for the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.

It es­tab­lished the prin­ci­ple that the king was sub­ject to the law, rather than above it, and stip­u­lated that “no free man shall be seized or im­pris­oned ... ex­cept by the law­ful judg­ment of his equals or by the law of the land.”

Cameron said it was mod­ern Bri­tons’ duty to safe­guard the char­ter’s “mo­men­tous achieve­ment.”

But op­po­nents ac­cuse him of try­ing to un­der­mine rights. Cameron’s Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment wants to re­place the Hu­man Rights Act — whose supreme ar­biter is a Euro­pean court — with a Bri­tish Bill of Rights, a move op­po­nents fear could weaken key pro­tec­tions.

Cameron said the Magna Carta had in­spired ev­ery­one from women’s suf­frage cam­paign­ers to Ma­hatma Gandhi and Nel­son Man­dela, who cited it at his trial in 1964.

But he added that “iron­i­cally ... the good name of ‘ hu­man rights’ has some­times be­come dis­torted and de­val­ued,” in an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to present-day po­lit­i­cal de­bates.

“It falls to us in this gen­er­a­tion to re­store the rep­u­ta­tion of those rights, and their crit­i­cal underpinning of our legal sys­tem,” he added.

Shami Chakrabarti of rights group Lib­erty said Cameron “could give a mas­ter class in bare-faced cheek, us­ing Magna Carta day to den­i­grate our Hu­man Rights Act.”


Peo­ple gather at the river­side meadow west of Lon­don as the Red Ar­rows RAF dis­play team fly over the Magna Carta me­mo­rial in Run­nymede, Eng­land, dur­ing a com­mem­o­ra­tion cer­e­mony on Mon­day, June 15, to cel­e­brate the 800th an­niver­sary of the ground­break­ing ac­cord called Magna Carta.

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