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Magna Carta: Myth and Meaning

Where does Magna Carta stand today? In a time of the threat to rights from terror laws and state surveillance of our online activities, do we need to reaffirm its basic principles?

June 2015 will see the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the ‘Great Charter’ which was signed at Runnymede by King John to resolve a political crisis he faced with his barons. Buried within its 69 clauses is one of immeasurable importance. This is the idea that no one should be deprived of their freedom without just cause, and that people are entitled to fair trial by their peers according to the law of the land.

At the time Magna Carta did nothing to improve the lot of the vast majority of English people, and all but three of its provisions have been repealed. Yet Magna Carta has come to be seen as the cornerstone of English liberty and an international rallying cry against the arbitrary use of power. It was invoked by opponents of Charles I’s overbearing rule in the 17th century and embodied in the 1791 Bill of Rights in America, where it is still held to have special constitutional status.

Where does Magna Carta stand today? In a time of secret courts in Britain and the Guantanamo gulag, the threat to rights from terror laws and state surveillance of our online activities, do we need to reaffirm its basic principles? Should we take things even further, as Tim Berners-Lee has suggested, and create a new Magna Carta for the worldwide web to protect our liberty online?


Speakers

Chair

Henry Porter

Writer and journalist


Writer and journalist specialising in liberty and civil rights. He is an award-winning thriller writer and the London editor of Vanity Fair. He has written six novels and a children’s book. His thriller about the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg, was awarded the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the Best Thriller and his most recent book, The Dying Light, was runner up for the same prize. As a columnist for the Observer, he was challenged by Tony Blair to an email debate on Labour’s record on civil liberties. He subsequently co-founded of the Convention on Modern Liberty.
Featuring

Dinah Rose

Barrister


Dinah Rose QC is a barrister specialising in civil liberties and public law. She represented Julian Assange in the Supreme Court, and Binyam Mohamed, a British resident detained in Guantanamo Bay. She is currently acting for The Guardian, seeking disclosure of letters written by Prince Charles to Government Ministers.

David Starkey

Historian and author


One of Britain’s leading constitutional historians, known for his combative debating style on Radio 4’s The Moral Maze and BBC2’s Question Time. He has written numerous bestselling books and presented popular television series on subjects including Henry VIII, Elizabeth l, the monarchy, and the Churchills.

Rory Stewart

Former diplomat and bestselling author


Conservative MP and bestselling author. His career has included a 6,000-mile trek through Afghanistan where he founded an NGO, and an official posting in wartorn Iraq. He has presented television documentaries on subjects including Lawrence of Arabia and Afghanistan. His books include The Prince of the Marshes and Can Intervention Work (co-authored with Gerald Knaus)