On this day,15 June, in 1215, King John 1 of England signed and sealed the document that would over the years come to symbolise freedom, justice, equality under the law and democracy for billions of people around the world – Magna Carta or ‘The Great Charter’. It is one of the most famous documents in British history.
Many of the rights which we take for granted today were first enshrined in Magna Carta. The Charter’s main principle was that everyone is equal under the law and, more importantly, no one is above the law.
It is that idea that gave birth to so many of our rights and freedoms, to parliamentary democracy, the right to a fair trial, and a series of controls on the abuse of arbitrary power.
Over the centuries, Magna Carta has provided the inspiration for key moments in British and world history like the US Declaration of Independence and has had influence over the United Nations.
The significance of what Magna Carta stands for has always been challenged, but never more so than in today’s world where basic human rights and basic freedoms are under threat in many parts of the world. Indeed, I sometimes feel that we are going backwards and not forwards which is a real tragedy.
The ideas of Magna Carta – equality under the law, no one is above the law – together with the subsequent rights and freedoms of society have always been principles close to my heart. And for that, I have my father to thank.
A lawyer by profession, my father has dedicated his life to human rights and to ensuring the rights and freedoms of any man, woman and child are protected by the rule of law. He has fought tirelessly for the independence of the judiciary because he says that without an independent judiciary no country can call itself a democracy and claim that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law.
He was a Special Rapporteur for the United Nations for nine years, during which time he travelled around the world investigating and reporting on abuses of executive (government) power. He got into trouble in his own country for the work he did.
It is through my father that I became a member of Amnesty International and continue to be so. He is an inspiration to my siblings and me.
I am very fortunate to live in a country where the rule of law is upheld and where the citizen does have basic rights and freedoms. I live in a country where women have the right to study, work and be treated equally to men. It’s not perfect and there are many things that need to be addressed but it could be a lot, lot worse.
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Ciao for now.
If you’d like to know more about Magna Carta, take a look at this BBC iWonder guide.