Magna Carta and the gateway to human rights

This weekend will see the Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary come to pass, and for those in Lincoln, a treat indeed. When we look behind the veil of celebrations though, what does this ancient document actually mean to us and for us?

‘The Great Charter’ – originally founded on June 15 1215, was brought about to quell rebel barons who were unhappy with King John, thus aiding to destroy the so called divine right of Kings. Of course this world-famous document has undergone numerous makeovers, scandals and indeed ignorance; but where does it leave us today?

The Human Rights Act of 1998 is the UK’s implementation of the European Convention of Human Rights; stemming from the 1948 UN Declaration on Human Rights, which saw international effort to prevent a repeat of atrocities seen in the Second World War.

Fast forward to post 9/11 and our government is scrambling for special measures, thus the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 comes to fruition; argued as one of the widest breaches of habeas corpus (unlawful detention or imprisonment), whereby certain sections held the ‘thin veneer of legality’ in an attempt to detain foreign citizens suspected of terrorism without trial – due to evidence too sensitive or admissible by the court, but substantial enough for detention.

Incidentally, habeaus corpus itself is wrongly attributed to the Magna Carta, though still predates back hundreds of years. Now under the new Tory majority government, we are facing the possibility of having the human rights act pulled from under our feet and replaced, leaving the public, experts and politicians alike bemused, confused or plain irate at such an idea.

The basic premise is the Conservative’s fight to gain independence which it sees as being strangled by the EU. Currently, British courts are required to fall in with judgements made in the European Court of Human Rights; whereas they want the buck to stop with the UK and in turn wish to replace it with a ‘British bill of rights’.

Though, as Stewart Wood notes, after over a decade of campaigning, the Tories have yet to emerge with a solid plan of what would be featured in the bill or how it would work. Not a particularly strong start for changing our civil liberties.

On top of this, there are other worries, such as what would happen with the Good Friday agreement? Would this bill cover all those in Britain, or just nationals? Are we to exit the ’48 declaration that Churchill himself wanted drawn up?

Sociologically speaking, it all comes down to control. What control do we have over our lives? Writer Leigh Doughty muses that things like “bail implies guilt, or, in a way, buying freedom. We know why it’s there but it undermines basic rights.”

Though there are many instances of the HR act providing assistance to those in need; how rigid is it if it can be undermined by legislation, or even repealed, at the drop of a hat?

One could argue we need to concentrate on the bigger picture, the state of nature. When the law has seemingly failed us, we turn to a higher power, in this case the EU. This applies to all other countries under its jurisdiction, so why then must our government be so set against it? Control.

Whether the Conservatives will be able to push this through, is yet to be seen, but for now most people believe we’re in for a long wait as Cameron has already said this is the time for drafting, not implementing.

So as we revel in this weekend’s fine celebrations of what arguably paved the way for the voice of the average citizen, let us all remember what we have fought for, what we have won, and what we could lose.