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.