Today, the world celebrates the anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta. We say the world because the English treaty has taken on an international role in the past 800 years. There are events to commemorate the anniversary in D.C., England, and New Zealand. In the United States, the American Bar Association is hosting around 700 lawyers in a conference focusing on the modern influence of the document. In England, the celebrations are throughout the country as people wear crowns for the week, the national library displays exhibitions year long, and artists commemorate the anniversary in various artistic forms. New Zealand is also celebrating the event with a large conference and ceremonies.
While it is unlikely that the writers imagined their words would resonate for 800 years, the Magna Carta has evolved alongside globalization and international relations, reflecting the ongoing contention between governments’ objectives and individuals’ rights. With the expansion of the British Commonwealth during the early part of the 20th century, a common rule of law, based off of English law, was integrated into societies around the world. As such, the Magna Carta expanded alongside the British Commonwealth because the charter was foundational to English law. Since the creation of the Magna Carta, global policies have continued to reaffirm these ideals in documents such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Contrary to popular belief, the Magna Carta was not intended to be a sweeping list of rights. It was a list of complaints against King John of England, who was nicknamed Bad King John. Yet, the treaty set unprecedented norms that limited the power of the king by subjecting him to English law and establishing a number of rights such as freedom of religion and the right to a fair trial. These once novel ideas are now an integral part of global justice and freedom.
As the internet and social media expand rapidly, global citizens are asserting their rights to expression and liberty in the internet world. The British Library is celebrating the anniversary with a project that focuses on the subject of digital rights. English youth are participating by writing what they believe should be the fundamental rights of internet users, which can be voted for online. While the submitted clauses are not written in the solemn prose of old English, the students are just as sincere in their assertions of their rights. For example, one 13-year-old student wrote that “[the web we want will … ] be free from oppression; users will have the right to a safe web community”. There is a clear relationship between these modern concerns and the original assertions of the Magna Carta.
Many of the challenges to freedom and justice in the modern world are faced through public-private partnerships that empower leaders and individuals to cooperate and share experiences in order to gain a broader understanding of the issues. While the face of elite influence has changed dramatically since the days of absolute monarchies, the ultimate goal is still to uphold individuals’ rights to justice and freedom.
Meridian is excited to be a part of the global celebration as we develop programs on law and personal rights in the digital age. It is obvious that the Magna Carta is still relevant today in advocating for a world engaged in the rights of individuals and their relationships to their governments.