John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Sunday, March 20, 2005
  Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus
This afternoon I spoke to a meeting in Stechford. Part of my speech related to the damage the Labour Government are doing to the laws and rules created in British Traditions stretching back centuries.

Two key elements are the Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus.
Articles 38 and 39 of the Magna Carta said:
38 In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.
39 No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

The Magna Carta was the result of an agreement wrung from King John on June 19 1215. It may have only protected the more powerful feudal lords, but it was a step in controlling overweaning state power. Had the barons not seized London in May 1215 he would almost certainly not have consented to this constraint on his power.

There was no protection for anyone other than the barons. This changed in the 1620s.

In 1627 King Charles I threw into jail five knights in a tax disagreement, and the knights sued the King, asserting their habeas corpus right to be free or on bail unless convicted of a crime.

King Charles I, in response, invoked his right to simply imprison anybody he wanted (other than the rich), anytime he wanted, as he said, "per speciale Mandatum Domini Regis."

Charles' decree wasn't well received. The result of his overt assault on the rights of citizens led to a sort of revolt in the British Parliament, producing the 1628 "Petition of Right" law, which restated Articles 38 and 39 of the Magna Carta and added that "writs of habeas corpus, [are] there to undergo and receive [only] as the court should order." It was later strengthened with the "Habeas Corpus Act of 1640" and a second "Habeas Corpus Act of 1679."

The 1679 Act basically means that individuals cannot be imprisoned for administrative convenience.

Looking at the correct approach given the trial in Leicester it is clear that the route towards security combined liberty is to consider the details of procedures and how to enable proper trials in difficult situations.

Avoiding Kangaroo Courts whilst not making a prosecution in a difficult situation impossible is not that difficult.

These issues do not present easily in soundbites, however. In a sense the debate about legal procedures relating to evidence give a good example of why most political reporting on the mass media is too shallow to come to valid conclusions.
 
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