This past June marked the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, a charter which was signed by King John of England on 19th June 1215 at Runnymede. It remains one of the most important documents ever created and established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law.
Although Magna Carta contained 63 clauses when it was first granted, only three of those clauses remain part of English law. One defends the liberties and rights of the English Church, another confirms the liberties and customs of London and other towns, but the third is the most famous: it gave all free men the right to justice and a fair trial. Some of Magna Carta’s core principles are echoed in the United States Bill of Rights (1791) as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950).
Magna Carta has consequently acquired a special status as the cornerstone of English liberties. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of its clauses have now been repealed, or in some cases superseded by other legislation such as the Human Rights Act (1998). Magna Carta nonetheless retains enormous symbolic power as an ancient defence against arbitrary and tyrannical rulers, and as a guarantor of individual liberties.