I was honoured to attend two ceremonies last week celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. I’m particularly grateful to the Honourable Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, for hosting the Victoria event at Government House.
I enjoyed the keynote speech from Dr. Claire Breay, curator of medieval manuscripts at the British Museum. She pointed out that Magna Carta was law for only about ten weeks, before the charter was annulled. Her point, though, was that it has survived all these centuries as a symbol of the rule of law and individual rights and freedoms.
The occasion reminded me how those key principles entrenched in Magna Carta have endured. The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized Magna Carta as the source of many of the fundamental principles of our justice system today, including habeas corpus, and the right to be tried fairly by one’s peers within a reasonable time.
Those principles are also reflected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and, in particular, in sections 7, 9, and 11, which refer to the right to life, liberty and security of the person; the right not to be arbitrarily detained; and the presumption of innocence.
At the ceremonies, I urged guests to pause for a minute and think about life pre-Magna Carta. We take it for granted today that justice should serve the public interest. In England 800 years ago that wasn’t the case; everyone knew that justice served the King’s interest. To the typical commoner in 1215, individual rights and freedoms would have been a foreign concept.
I am honoured that I had the opportunity to publicly acknowledge the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and its legacy, and how essential the rule of law is to preserving and protecting our democratic institutions and a just society.