On Saturday 21 February 2015 civil liberties groups and human rights lawyers started their three day walk of c.49 miles from Runnymede to Westminster in defence of the legacy of Magna Carta and to highlight the hypocrisy of the government’s three-day event to mark the 800th anniversary of the historic document, the ‘Global Law Summit’.
Rhona Friedman, co-founder of Justice Alliance said at the start of the march: “This year we have one of the most important general elections for 30 or 40 years. All those gains which were made by the generations before us, the foundation of the welfare state following World War Two, all the things we hold dear are under threat.
Legal aid is the fourth pillar of the welfare state and it is being decimated. Magna Carta, the foundation of our civil liberties is being torn up by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. We have to resist because we will end up in a society where we cannot protect the vulnerable”.
Anthony Barnett, founder of openDemocracy speaking at Runnymede, said “We are here for three profound reasons in terms of defending Magna Carta.
The first of these is the act itself. Magna Carta brought arbitrary power to account. It was a deal between the barons and King John. It was an example that when legitimate authority starts to exercise its power in an arbitrary and despotic fashion, it is right and proper to resist and to bring that power to account, to bring it to the table and to force it to secede from those actions. Second it set down three principles of law”.
Barnett said that we must look at these in terms of what they mean to us today. The first principle, clause 39 is about due process of law when for example a person faces imprisonment. The due process of law is particularly important today, he said, because “the security state, the deep state that governs us, is constructing an apparatus of total surveillance and are recording that surveillance of our private lives. This is a way in which new forms of injustice and despotism are being developed and we have to say no.”
The second principle clause 40, says you cannot buy justice or deny justice. This he said, is the central issue, the need for legal aid.
“If people cannot afford to get justice we do not have the rule of law.”
Barnett highlighted that the third, founding principle which he states has been completely forgotten in official celebrations of the 800 year anniversary of Magna Carta, is the Charter of the Forests. “This gave people access to the forests, to the woodland. There is a common environment to be shared and protected. This is part of what we are defending.”
Barnett finished his impassioned speech stating:
When we say we are going to defend Magna Carta, from whom? The answer to that is very simple, from today’s barons. Today’s barons are the great corporations, the international corporations – financial and business. They have stolen our political parties, they have stolen our media. Now they want to suborn our legal system and our history. The Global Law Summit is playing with the Magna Carta, to invite people from around the world to a networking event, to allow everybody to chat each other up for corporate tax avoidance. This has to be stopped.
We say in defending Magna Carta, 800 years of rule by barons is enough.