This year sees the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, an event seen by many as having a profound influence on the legal systems of the modern Western world.
The Magna Carta was signed following a bitter feud, that led to civil war, between the then monarch, King John, and his barons. The monarchy had been unpopular for some time with John’s predecessors, his father Henry II, and his brother Richard I, seemingly determined to increase the power and wealth of the Crown.
One particularly despicable act saw him murder the wife and son of one of his barons by starving them to death
Their reigns had been unpopular but when John succeeded them the popularity of the monarchy hit an all time low. John’s reputation was abysmal.
He was seen as untrustworthy, tyrannical and cruel. He had fallen out with the church and had murdered his own nephew, who he saw as a rival.
He was also reported to have seduced the wives and daughters of a number of his barons, and supposed allies.
One particularly despicable act saw him murder the wife and son of one of his barons by starving them to death. They were imprisoned in the same cell with the wife dying mad with hunger trying to eat her dead son’s face.
This led to conflict with the powerful barons who unsurprisingly rebelled and civil war followed. Realising that he was in grave danger of being deposed John was forced to agree to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede on the June 15, 1215.
The better known principles are interpreted as establishing the basic liberties of English subjects.
Those principles have been used when drafting many subsequent legal documents including the American Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, and even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
There is a suggestion that the current Government’s proposal to withdraw altogether from the European Convention on Human Rights would mean that the country that brought about such important principles are abandoning them.
The outcome of the forthcoming General Election will determine whether that happens.