Monday 18 May 2015

Barons to face Treason Trial ...!

On 31st July, Westminster Hall will be the venue for a mock Treason trial -Treason Trial date set for Magna Carta Barons   A group of a dozen or so modern-day barons and bishops will help mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta by facing a mock trial judged by Lord Neuberger, President of the UK Supreme Court; Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice of New Zealand; and Hon. Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court.

Advocates recruited from across the Commonwealth
will make the cases for the prosecution and defence, arguing over whether the barons and bishops were acting lawfully when they refused to surrender London to King John as they had agreed. The barons and bishops, it is widely accepted, forced the King to agree to a charter which addressed a number of fiscal concerns close to their hearts, as well as clauses asserting the rule of law and the right to a trial by jury for certain people.

Magna Carta still contains a provision relating to London -

THE City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs [which it hath been used to have]. Moreover We will and grant, that all other Cities, Boroughs, Towns, and the Barons of the Five Ports, and all other Ports, shall have all their Liberties and free Customs.

Then there is the more famous Article XXIX:

'NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.' 

For my part, I am not starry-eyed about Magna Carta and little of it remains on the statute book.  Essentially, it was a list demanded by powerful people in the land who acted out of self-interest.  Nevertheless, over time, the Magna Carta came to be regarded as a statement that even the ruler was subject to the law.  I discussed Magna Carta here and took a look at the antiquated Law of Treason here.

For those who are starry-eyed about Magna Carta, David Allen Green offered an antidote!  Writing for the Financial Times (£wall) - The Myth of Magna Carta - he argued that 'as law', Magna Carta 'is of little or no practical use.'  'Nobody in modern times seems to have ever relied on it to determine the outcome of a case. It is not “live” in the way the Bill of Rights is in the United States or similar constitutional guarantees in other countries. It is ornamentation, not legislation.'

Westminster Hall has been the scene of many famous trials including that of King Charles I who was executed in 1649. Historically, the hall was also home to the principal English Courts of Law - see Parliament Westminster Hall.  Those courts were the predecessors to the modern High Court of Justice.

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