Tag Archives: magna carta

Opinion: Magna Carta: Civil liberties 800 years on, under a Tory majority government

On Monday, the Magna Carta – the oldest charter in British (and indeed European) history which protects civil liberties – celebrated its 800th anniversary.

At a celebration in Runnymede, where the Magna Carta was sealed by King John in 1215, David Cameron pledged “to safeguard the legacy, the idea the momentous achievements of those barons” who first signed the Great Charter.

That’s quite a bold statement to make, especially considering he’s in the middle of damaging – not safeguarding – such a legacy by repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 (hereon the HRA).

Like the Magna Carta protected civil liberties in the face of the monarchy, so the HRA protects civil liberties in the face of our government. Consequentially, as Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder and Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld suggest in their article in The New Statesman, it’s hypocritical that the Tories should glorify the Magna Carta whilst scolding the HRA.

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LibLink: Catherine Bearder MEP: How can Britain celebrate Magna Carta and contemplate leaving ECHR in the same year?

Catherine Bearder MEP has co-written an article for the New Statesman on the Conservatives’ plans to abolish the Human Rights Act. She said:

Fundamental rights, the rule of law and democratic principles are frequently violated in nearly all EU member states. In some cases, the violations are serious and systematic.  The current Hungarian government is one of the most egregious offenders. In recent years we have seen critical media gagged, the electoral law changed to secure an absolute majority for the governing party, opposition parties weakened and the independence of the judiciary undermined. But there are many other examples across Europe: the anti-gay laws in Lithuania, the deportation of Roma people from France, the inhumane treatment of underage asylum seekers in the Netherlands and the collective disregard shown for the law and civil liberties in many countries’ counter-terrorism policies.

We lose our moral authority if we tolerate torture, secret prisons, abduction, and indefinite detention without fair trials. These ugly blots tarnish Europe’s status as a shining beacon of freedom and human rights in the world. EU governments must be held accountable for these crimes, including and especially those committed in the name of defending democracy.

That is why we need legal instruments to uphold our common values, even if this means that sometimes national authorities are overruled.  EU member states have voluntarily signed up to these supranational laws and conventions for good reason.  It is the essence of democracy that those in power are bound by laws and their powers are limited.  That may sometimes be awkward, but these checks and balances are the vital safeguards which protect us against abuse of power by the state.

These principles are not left or right-wing, nor are they alien to British culture. Quite the opposite: safeguarding citizens’ rights and the rule of law have their roots in that ancient, famous document that we are celebrating this year.

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Enough is enough

Anyone from any political persuasion can list things this Government has done that annoy them.

Personally, I was annoyed enough to join millions of others on the march against the war in Iraq – now it’s time to hold them to account.

I’m not so sure how I will react if and when I get the orders from the Government to present myself at the interrogation centre in nearby Derby and hand over more personal information than is currently demanded from sex offenders.  I’m not certain I’m ready to join Simon Hughes in jail for refusing an ID card.

I’ve never …

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Opinion: Magna culpa

The next person to mention in my presence: Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus, or the “insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedoms,” is surely going to regret it. I have never been more heartily sick and tired of the whole “civil liberties” industry following last week’s events where, after an admittedly unwelcome measure was passed in the House of Commons, a Conservative frontbencher with whom we have virtually nothing in common went off on some vain flight of fancy, and it was somehow deemed inappropriate for Liberal Democrats to oppose him.

Starting from a position of puzzlement over the extent to which civil liberties seem to dominate political discourse, I have now come to see the whole charade as an excuse on the part of self-indulgent and out-of-touch politicians for not talking about the issues that really matter to the electorate. To the ordinary man and woman in the street, freedom is paramount – but it is a freedom which has nothing whatsoever to do with detention without charge, ID cards, CCTV, or any of the other oppressive instruments of the big-brother police state (which doesn’t exist by the way).

The sense in which many people find their freedoms curtailed on an everyday basis is that they are obliged to work long hours each day, maybe with a difficult or cynical employer. That higher food and fuel bills are starting to hurt their ability to hold body and soul together. That they increasingly find themselves facing impossible decisions balancing work, life, and family. What they are less concerned about, I would suggest, is the prospect of being arrested and imprisoned for 42 days without charge, especially if they have done nothing wrong. In fact if they saw a policeman on their patch at all, they might be pleasantly surprised.

But no, to a certain breed of dull-witted politician, Magna Carta is what it’s all about. The level of unthinking inertia is such that they forget – as they drone on about “hard-won freedoms” and “slippery slopes” – that today’s technological era hardly bears comparison with anything that happened in the previous century, never mind in another age altogether. And they don’t come much more unimaginative than the member for Haltemprice and Howden who has now embarked at considerable public expense upon a political stunt that, when the dust has settled, will prove precisely nothing.

Of all the lazy and incoherent things that have been said regarding the forthcoming contest, the most absurd is this notion that we may declare the by-election to be fought over the sole issue of 42 days detention without charge.

Posted in Op-eds | 135 Comments
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