Although Magna Carta was signed in 1213, it was issued on 15 June 1215. Magna Carta represents the most important part of the extensive historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law in the English speaking world. It was used as a model for many of the colonies, including Barbados, as they were developing their own legal systems and the constitutions as they became independent.
Barbados’ own Treaty of Oistins, signed at the Mermaid Tavern in Oistins in 1652 depends heavily on Magna Carta. And the US Constitution, that incorporates large chunks of the Treaty of Oistins, also heavily depends on Magna Carta
Magna Carta put into law certain rights that we tend to take for granted today. Such as that no freeman can be punished, except through the law of the land. Of course, today the word “freeman” refers to all men and women. The actual clause, translated, reads:
“29. NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.”
Lord Denning (generally considered by most jurists to be the finest ever jurist in the English-speaking world, described Magna Carta as “...the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”. And Lord Wolff, from whose rules Barbados takes its Civil Procedure Rules, “...first of a series of instruments that now are recognised as having a special constitutional status”.
Out of Magna Carta comes such important pieces of legislation as Habeas Corpus Act (1679). Of particular interest to us in Barbados is Clause 45, which says that the King “read the State” should only appoint as “justices, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs” those who knew the law and would keep it well. A read of Tales from the Courts challenges if Barbados has decided to forego this requirement given some of the actors appointed.
Clause 38 stated that no-one could be put on trial based solely on the unsupported word of an official. And then there is Clause 40 which has been quoted repeatedly by the CCJ in condemnation of Barbados’ judicial system. Clause 40 disallows the selling of justice, or its denial or delay. Clause 40 is specifically mirrored in the Barbados Constitution that judges swear, hand on Bible, to uphold.
London’s Daily Mail reports on the bringing together of the four surviving copies of MAGNA CARTA in celebration of its 800thbirthday. There are some truly wonderful photographs in the Mail’s report [BU’s emphasis].
“The four surviving medieval copies of Magna Carta will be brought together for the first time in history in 2015.
The date is 800 years after the issue of the Charter by King John in 1215.
The unification will be held at the British Library for three days in early 2015 and will kick off a year of celebrations across the UK and the world.
The event is taking place in collaboration with Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral, where two original copies of Magna Carta are usually kept.
The other two copies are housed safely at the British Library.
It will provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for researchers and the public to see all four documents side-by-side.
History buffs will be able to enter a ballot to win one of 1,215 free tickets to see the unified Medieval manuscripts.
The papers will be examined in the British Library’s Conservation Centre by some of the world’s leading experts on the documents.
Experts are currently undertaking a major research project on Magna Carta and the charters of King John, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
This unique opportunity will allow the historians involved to study faded or obscured parts of the text more closely and to look for new clues about the identity of the writers of the texts, which is currently unknown.
Magna Carta, meaning “The Great Charter”, was issued by King John of England as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced in 1215. [BU’s NOTE: Could the current political crisis Barbados i.e. government and the court ignoring the principles of Magna Carta as enshrined in the Barbados Constitution be a fair comparison?]
Written in Latin on parchment, Magna Carta established for the first time that the king was subject to the law, rather than above it. [BU’s NOTE: The monarch was not above the law, in the Barbados context this applies to judges and politicians]
Although nearly a third of the text was dropped or substantially rewritten within ten years and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times. [BU’s NOTE: But the one requiring timely justice that cannot be bought, has NOT been repealed]
However, Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British Constitution and its principles are echoed in the US constitution and others around the world. [BU’s NOTE: Including the Barbados Constitution]
It has been used in many ways since the Middle Ages but it has become a potent, international rallying cry against the arbitrary use of power.
The British Library is staging an exhibition about the medieval charter.
Lincoln Cathedral is opening a Magna Carta centre in Lincoln Castle, while Sailsbury Cathedral will host educational and outreach events to celebrate the 800 year anniversary.
Claire Breay, Lead Curator of Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts at the British Library, says: ‘Magna Carta is the most popular item in the Library’s Treasures gallery, and is venerated around the world as marking the starting point for government under the law.
‘Bringing the four surviving manuscripts together for the first time will create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for researchers and members of the public to see them in one place.’
The Dean of Salisbury, the Very Reverend June Osborne, said: ‘Magna Carta’s clauses on social justice are as relevant today as they were 800 years ago and are at the heart of all we aspire to.
‘We hope the publicity generated through the planned unification and 800th anniversary year will increase awareness of its importance, values, ideals and modern significance to a huge new audience.’
Richard Godden, a partner at Linklaters, a law firm that is supporting the reunification, said: ‘Magna Carter is a foundation stone of the Rule of Law and its influence extends around the world.‘
‘The arbitrary authority of the state is just as much a threat today as it was in the day of King John and the principles enshrined in Magna Carta remain essential not only in relation to personal liberty but to creating an environment in which business can prosper. We forget them at our peril.’
In 1957, the American Bar Association erected the Runnymede Memorial. In 1976, the UK lent one of four surviving originals of the 1215 Magna Carta to the U.S. for its bicentennial celebrations. The original was returned after one year, but a replica is still on display in the U.S. Capitol Crypt in Washington, D.C. One of four surviving originals of the 1297 Magna Carta is also on display in the U.S. National Archives. BU is sure therefore that CJ Marston Gibson and PM, one Freundel Stuart QC, has recourse to remove officers of the court who are underperforming.
Barbados’ judicial system has succeeded in doing what King John could not do, 800 years ago and has set the clock back 800 years, with successive Barbados prime ministers doing absolutely nothing to stop the judiciary plunging the country into judicial and economic chaos and, in many cases, personal (for litigants) hardship and despair.
Perhaps the best we can expect is that at vast expense to the taxpayers – although less than the Prime Minister’s jaunt to the Commonwealth Conference in Australia – a retreat for Barbados’ judges will now be planned to take place in London. The ostensible purpose of the retreat will be for our judges to study Magna Carta, from which the Constitution they have sworn to uphold is taken. When they return to Barbados having learned nothing for the massive outlay the taxpayers will have made, they can claim that Magna Carta is written in Latin and in the French of 1219 and they could not read it.