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800th anniversary of the Magna Carta: Why is it still important?

800 years on, is the Magna Carta still important?

This year marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, one of the most important documents history has produced. 

But why does it still matter for Queensland's modern-day lawyers? 

The Magna Carta has gained an enduring significance.

What is the Magna Carta? 

On June 15 1215, King John, then monarch of England, validated 'the great charter' on a meadow named Runnymeade, just outside Windsor. The document has become an icon for those opposed to arbitrary rule and the transgression of individual rights.

Initially, the charter was both a peace treaty and a political settlement between a tyrannical monarch and his rebellious subjects. It was drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury in an attempt to solve the division between the king and a group of unruly barons.

Even though the peace failed to materialise, the document has gained an enduring significance. 

An unlikely hero

When it was written, the charter was never intended to spark a legal revolution. For the most part, the document is restrictive in its scope, focusing predominantly on the feudal administrative roles and specific grievances held by individual barons. 

However, buried within the document are a series of fundamental values that not only challenge King John's reign, but any autocratic power.

Tom Hickman, barrister and renowned legal author, says that "commercial, tax and employment lawyers frequently make arguments based on the right to a fair trial – a concept that was one of the most significant legacies of Magna Carta 800 years ago'".

Importantly, these values have proven to be highly adaptable. Many take active steps to protect their assets and other forms of property. Yet, it still is essential to have a property lawyer giving you advice in matters relating to commercial law.  

How does the Magna Carta affect modern day Queensland?How does the Magna Carta affect modern-day Queensland?

So why is it important?

The true worth of the Magna Carta is reflected in the documents it has influenced. Constitutional documents such as the United States Bill of Rights (1791), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1953) all have parallels with the Magna Carta. 

Clause 39, possibly the document's most famous, states that "no free man shall be seized or imprisoned…except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land". Although vague, especially surrounding the idea of "law of the land", the clause has and continues to inspire legal professionals the world over. 

More generally, the Magna Carta is one of the first instances whereby the executive arm of government (being at the time King John and his appointees) may execute power only if they are subject to the law.  

In today's world, this idea is still of great importance. The cornerstone of our democratic system is defined by this separation of powers. When legislation is passed by the government, its application is the prerogative of an impartial judge and jury, not that of the government. 

Although the charter is not directly cited or used in the majority of cases, its values continue to influence the legislative process.

Essential for commerce

The charter also has a much more practical use. In today's global economy, the rule of law is more important than ever. 

Rule of law is essential to the workings of industry because it facilitates trade and commerce. It sets out standards of practice and is one of the underlying drivers of quality goods and services.

Although the charter is not directly cited or used in the majority of cases, its values continue to influence the legislative process.

This document, signed 800 years ago on a small meadow on an island thousands of kilometres away, still has an impact on the quality of life enjoyed by Queensland residents.

Here at McCarthy Durie Lawyers, we cannot stress enough how much we care about your individual liberties. Please get in touch with our diligent and caring legal team whenever our assistance is needed.